"Solastalgia": An Environmental Malady of the Spirit
The word 'solastalgia' has not yet appeared in any dictionary, but that omission is likely to be rectified when the next editions are produced. The word was invented by Glenn Albrecht, a Professor of Sustainability at Murdoch University in Perth. Specializing in the intersection of ecosystem and human health, he had no word to describe the unhappiness of people whose landscapes were being transformed by the damage wrought by contemporary technologies and human behaviors. Thus, he invented one. "Solstalgia" describes this new version of homesickness.
Robert Macfarlane, in an article in today's Guardian, provides a compelling explanation of the word's timeliness. He states, "Where the pain of nostalgia arises from moving away, the pain of solastalgia arises from staying put. Where the pain of nostalgia can be mitigated by return, the pain of solastalgia tends to be irreversible.....Solastalgia speaks of a modern uncanny, in which a familiar place is rendered unrecognisable by climate change or corporate action: the home become suddenly unhomely around its inhabitants." In other words, the new wor connectis ecosystem distress and human distress.
"Solastalgia" does more than describe a new, but rarely acknowledged, malady. It also counters the three reasons upon which those who deny anthropogenic significance base their arguments, as outlined by Macfarlane:
- the Anthropocene is arrogant because it aggrandizes human powers, presenting us a members of a super-species, a narcissist delusion.
- there is no such thing as a general 'human', because the wealthy and the poor, for example, do not share accountability or victimization equally.
- the capitalist-technocratic focuses ignores the role of ideology, politics, and economy, suggesting technocratic solutions. When the problems of the Anthropocene are imagined as physical problems, it is assumed that geoengineering can fix climate change, for example.
Madfarlane ends his discourse with this prediction, "I think, though, that the Anthropocene has administered – and will administer – a massive jolt to the imagination. Philosophically, it is a concept that does huge work both for us and on us. In its unsettlement of the entrenched binaries of modernity (nature and culture; object and subject), and its provocative alienation of familiar anthropocentric scales and times, it opens up rather than foreclosing progressive thought."