What do you do when home as you know it disappears before your very eyes? Whether ravaged by wildfire or decimated by deforestation, how do you describe the very specific sense of loss that you feel when the land around you is destroyed by man’s actions?
“Grief” doesn’t quite cut it. Nor does “rage” or “hopelessness.” These emotions are only part of the bigger picture and they aren’t tailored enough for this environment- or home-specific sense of destruction that can leave us feeling isolated and powerless.
Until now, we have had to make do—trying our best to articulate these feelings in a way that others might relate to, but also— important to the activists among us—in a way that might enact change. But it can be lonely; particularly when government policies move at a snail’s pace and society appears fueled by endless distractions.
Many Indigenous peoples have been battling this since white colonization began, but the English language is now evolving and expanding to encapsulate the trauma that countless people around the world are enduring in the face of the climate crisis and excessive exploitation of natural resources. As weather extremes become the norm and the most precious landscapes among the seven continents become polluted and destroyed, an ecophilosopher with the hope of a brighter future is equipping us with the vocabulary we need.
Australian environmental philosopher and now-retired professor, Glenn A. Albrecht, began his journey as a nature lover and advocate for wildlife as most of us do, by being immersed in it, or moved in some way by the pain of destruction. He has written extensively about “earth emotions,” or words used to describe our ever-changing environment in both scientific articles and an eponymous book. Here are a handful of terms that you need to know, and permission to feel them all:
Solastalgia – pain or distress caused by the loss or lack of solace and the sense of desolation connected to the present state of one’s home; homesickness when you are still at home.
Albrecht created this word after he and others watched their homeland in the Hunter Valley of New South Wales, Australia, become overtaken by open-pit coal mining. The once-verdant countryside that they had known and loved and was home to wildflowers and even wilder horses gradually became replaced by various shades of grey and the grinding of heavy machinery as the land was ripped up for fossil fuel extraction. They longed for what they had always known as home, but it no longer existed.
Drawing inspiration from the word, “nostalgia,” which we think of today as a sense of looking back to a time and place that felt easier, “solastalgia” describes the pain associated with the loss of comfort or “solace” that a physical place provides prior to being changed by environmental destruction. It can be applied to countless homelands today and you have likely felt it when you have watched pristine wilderness become bulldozed for a new apartment complex.
Tierratrauma – acute Earth-based existential trauma in the present
While solastalgia tends to emerge over time as a place becomes less and less recognizable, tierratrauma describes a sudden moment of acute destruction: a tree is cut, an oil spill occurs, or a fire rages through the forest.
Terrafurie – extreme anger unleashed within those who can clearly see the self-destructive tendencies of current society and feel they must protest to change its direction
This is a familiar feeling for activists who refuse to stand by and do nothing.
Mermerosity – an anticipatory state of being worried about the possible passing of the familiar and its replacement by that which does not sit comfortably in one’s sense of place
Have you ever felt anxiety about the rate at which your city is being gentrified?
Topoaversion – the feeling that you do not wish to return to a place that you once loved when you know that it has been irrevocably changed for the worse
Perhaps you used to spend every summer on a quiet beach that has now been taken over by a large, loud resort.
But in addition to these negative earth emotions, there are good ones that we can strive for; intangible feelings that haven’t been named until recently.
Eutierria – a positive feeling of oneness with the Earth and its life forces where the boundaries between self and the rest of nature are obliterated and a deep sense of peace and connectedness pervades consciousness
It’s the feeling of being perched on the edge of a mountain and being reminded that you are a part of something greater than yourself. It’s the sense of losing track of time that comes with a walk in the woods. It’s the gratitude and fascination that comes when watching the birds fly home to roost at sunset. Acknowledging the connectedness of things is a powerful anti-anxiety tool that can take us outside of ourselves and remind us of the bigger picture of things.
Endemophilia – the particular love of the locally and regionally distinctive in the people of a place
Is there a particular place that you feel magnetically drawn to for its unique landscape and sense of culture?
Gheidist – the awareness of a force that holds all life together; a sense of mutual empathy for other beings
The ability to exude empathy for others, regardless of how different you are, can be the difference between protesting the construction of a pipeline hundreds of miles away because it will pollute another’s waterway, or doing nothing.
Symbiocene – the era in Earth’s history that will hopefully come after this one, where humans finally leave no trace
We live in an anthropocentric, or human-focused, society that – believe it, or not – is now recognizable in geological history and referred to as the “Anthropocene”. Albrecht and others are hopeful that this will be a blip in time (a bad one) rather than the beginning of the end. But in order to bring that possibility to fruition, it requires compassion and understanding, and lifestyle changes on an impossibly large scale.
Rather than falling prey to the clutches or inertia, start wherever you can with small changes in your own life and lead by example. And in the meantime, take refuge in the fact that at least you now have the vocabulary to empower you.
What are your favorite words to describe our changing planet? How have they empowered you?
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Photo: Dion Beetson on Unsplash