If you’ve never heard of solastalgia, you’re not alone. The term, solastalgia, was first recorded in 2003 at the Ecohealth Conference in Montreal. Glenn Albrecht (2007) created the term to define “the distress that is produced by environmental change impacting on people while they are directly connected to their home environment” (p. 95).
Solastalgia was derived from “solace” and “desolation,” as well as alga, meaning suffering and sickness. It draws reference from the word, “nostalgia,” a term first used to describe “the desire to return home while one is away from home” (Albrecht, 2005, p. 43). Nostalgia itself has been diluted with time, but up until up until 1946, it was still accorded the seriousness of “a possibly fatal ‘psycho-physiological” complaint by an eminent social scientist” (p. 43).
Solastalgia is a word whose time has come. While environmental crisis after environmental crisis induces physical pathology to our bodies’ systems, those same environmental crises often induce psychological injury to the mind.
Albrecht is an Associate Professor at the University of Newcastle in Australia, so his work deals with the effects of drought, mining and other threats to the environment on the people of that continent. But what applies for Australians certainly applies for all citizens of planet Earth.
On several occasions, I’ve thought to myself, “I’m glad my grandfather is no longer living.” My grandfather is one of the people I have loved the most in my lifetime, so I don’t make that statement flippantly. My grandfather had a deep connection to the natural world. Throughout his lifetime, he was disturbed by the use of pesticides and herbicides. He refused to use either in his garden, and he only used well-rotted manure, compost or fish fertilizer to enrich the soil. By recent standards, his belief in caring for the soil may seem banal, but that was not the case during the 50s, 60s and 70s. By the standards of his time, his ideas were radical.
My grandfather died in 1984, not long after I moved away from home. I was hardly an adult yet, and it pains me that I couldn’t have sat with him as I grew older to discuss politics, the environment and all the passions that we shared. I suspect there would have been plenty a good verbal scrap between the two of us. I am, however, comforted that he was not present to witness the last 30 years of destruction visited upon the world he loved. It would have broken his spirit, and sharing his pain would have broken my heart.
For those who do not have a deep connection with natural spaces, it might be difficult to imagine the pain that many feel for our natural world, but it is real nonetheless. It isn’t some phantom foolishness that a person can turn off and get over. No, it’s as real a cut to the flesh. But it cuts much deeper.
It isn’t a coincidence that “solastalgia” was coined at the turn to the 21 century. It is a word for our times and one that we’ll all be talking about in the years to come.
Albrecht, G. (2005). “‘Solastalgia’: A new concept in health and identity.” PAN, vol. 3. pp 41–55.
Albrecht, G. et al. (2007). “Solastalgia: the distress caused by environmental change.” Australasian Psychiatry. Vol 15. pp. 95–98.