Solastalgia, Soliphilia, Eutierria and Art.

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Many traditional cultures and their indigenous languages have words for home-heart-environment relationships, however, it is interesting to note that modern English has very few. I created the concept of ‘solastalgia’ to fill this void and to give expression in the English language to a fundamentally important relationship between people, communities and their home environment. I also feel that we need many more new concepts that recapture the closeness that human animals have with their support environment or habitat. The realm of the ‘psychoterratic’ or positive and negative relationships between human mental health (psyche) and the earth (terra) has to be re-created in the twenty first century.

The solace and comfort gained from a positive and creative relationship to home is conducive to physical and mental health. When the human-nature relationship is spontaneous and mutually enriching (symbiotic) we experience a state of ‘eutierria’ which I define as a positive feeling of oneness with the earth and its life forces (eu=good, tierra= earth, ia= suffix for member of a group of {positive psychoterratic} conditions). By contrast, when the home environment is changed in ways that take solace away and create feelings of distress, the result can be a breakdown in physical and mental health. Solastalgia is the melancholia or homesickness you have when you remain locked in your home environment while all around you, your home environment is being desolated in ways that you cannot control. The existential and emplaced feelings of desolation and loss of solace are reinforced by powerlessness.

Transformation at small scales of human habitation can be liberating for some but a source of melancholia for others. Place-based repair of damaged landscapes, relocation and/or travel were options for negating solastalgia at a time when the scale and pace of life was small and slow. However, when transformative forces begin to undermine the foundations of sustainability for the Whole Earth, there is potential for solastalgia to become a globally significant source of melancholia and distress. We are now living within these global transformative times as we face up to the universal loss of ecosystem health in the form of toxic pollution and a warming climate with attendant climate chaos. Our home, the Earth, is now under siege from one species and its power and we are beginning to suffer self-imposed solastalgia.

Creative writers and artists have always intuited ‘solastalgia’ in varying degrees. Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’ was painted in response to the eruption of Krakatoa in 1883. The blood red sky was a product of volcanic dust ejected into the global atmosphere, but Munch produced an archetypal, ecoapocalyptic response in the famous painting. A lesser degree of existential distress at environmental disturbance can also be found in the work of surrealists such as Salvador Dali and his response to the desolation of mind and landscape as a consequence of transformative powers such as war. Romantic and Nature poets such as Wordsworth have also contributed to the theme of the gradual loss of a loved home environment. Contemporary environmental art portrays the loss of species and ecosystems as something more than loss of biodiversity … it also depicts the loss of something vital within us … the negation of the very possibility of eutierria.

The challenge of recognising and responding to solastalgia is now more important than ever. Yes, small scale, local damage is still happening to loved home environments as globalisation homogenises all before its bulldozers, cookie-cutter buildings and neon signifiers of McLandscape. Good people lament the loss of their endemic landscapes as a universally branded global culture obliterates the distinctive and the unique. Urban solastalgia is the distress caused by unwelcome changes to the physical appearance of local and city landscapes, including sensescapes and streetscapes (it is no wonder the graffiti artists want to tag every surface with a reasserted local identity). Rural and regional solastalgia is produced under the impact of mining and agribusiness as they bring unwelcome homogeneity on a huge scale. Humans now possess the power to rapidly change home environments with powerful transformative technologies.

As bad as local and regional neg-transformation is, it is the big picture, the Earth, which is now a home under assault. That Munch feeling is reasserting itself as the planet warms to a Krakatoa-like conclusion. In a greenhouse that is getting hotter, the cryosphere weeps into the ocean and we all get that sinking feeling. As the climate gets hotter, more hostile and unpredictable … we seek solace wherever it is offered. Even virtual worlds depicted in films like Avatar seem better than the one we are creating for ourselves here on earth. We have virtual solastalgia within a film for a world that delivers moments of eutierria but is under assault from the earth miners. We feel elation when the Na’vi win back their planet with the help of human eco-warriors. It would be good if such eutierria could prevail here on the real earth as bad climate change is reversed and genuine moves are made to be sustainable with clean, safe renewable energy and resources. For this to happen, a new social movement based on what I call ‘soliphilia’ will be needed. Soliphilia is the political affiliation or solidarity needed between us all to be responsible for a place, bioregion, planet and the unity of interrelated interests within it. Solastalgia will be overcome only when sufficient of us act in solidarity to defeat the forces of desolation. A cultural and political movement based on soliphilia is now needed to protect the possibility of that wonderful psychological state I call ‘eutierria’ being experienced by future generations.

Artists already know this.

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About glennaalbrecht

Farmosopher at The Wallaby Farm, NSW: Glenn Albrecht retired as professor of sustainability at Murdoch University in Perth, Western Australia in June 2014. He is now an Honorary Professorial Fellow in the School of Geosciences, The University of Sydney. He was at the University of Newcastle as Associate Professor of Environmental Studies until December 2008. He is an environmental philosopher with both theoretical and applied interests in the relationship between ecosystem and human health, broadly defined. He pioneered the research domain of 'psychoterratic' or earth related mental health and emotional conditions with his concept of 'solastalgia' or the lived experience of negative environmental change. Solastalgia has become accepted worldwide as a key concept in understanding the impact of environmental change in academic, creative arts, social impact assessment and legal contexts. Glenn Albrecht’s work is now being used extensively in course readings, new research theses and academic research in many disciplines including geography and environmental studies. His work is also being published in languages other than English. He has publications in the field of animal ethics and has published on the ethics of relocating endangered species in the face of climate change pressures and the ethics of the thoroughbred horse industry worldwide. With Professor Phillip McManus (Sydney University) he has completed a book which was published in 2012 by Routledge on the thoroughbred industry. He also published with Professor McManus on the newly emerging domain of ‘psychoterratic geographies’ (McManus and Albrecht 2013). With colleagues, Nick Higginbotham (University of Newcastle) and Linda Connor (Sydney University) under Australian Research Council Discovery Project grants, he has researched the impact of mining in the Upper Hunter Region of NSW, Australia and the impact of climate change on communities, again in the Hunter Region. He has researched the impact of gas fracking and coal mining on people and communities in the Gloucester region of NSW. Glenn has also been involved as a Chief Investigator in an ARC Discovery Grant Project on the social and ethical aspects of the thoroughbred horse industry worldwide and was a partner investigator on ARC Linkage Grant funded research on the ethics of feral buffalo control in Arnhem Land. He has held an NCCARF grant at Murdoch University to study the likely impact of climate change on water provision in two inland cities (Broken Hill and Kalgoorlie). Glenn Albrecht is also a pioneer of transdisciplinary thinking and, with Higginbotham and Connor, produced a major book on this topic, Health Social Science: A Transdisciplinary and Complexity Perspective with Oxford University Press in 2001. His current major transdisciplinary research interest, the positive and negative psychological, emotional and cultural relationships people have to place and its transformation is one that sees him having a national and international research profile in an emergent field of academic inquiry where he has been recognised as a global pioneer. International citations to his academic works are now increasing annually and reference to his concept of solastalgia in global art and culture is now too extensive to fully document. Glenn now works as an independent academic based in the Hunter Region of NSW. He continues to research and publish in his chosen fields. He is a current grant assessor for Commonwealth Ministry of Arts grant applications and an Honorary Associate in the School of Geosciences, The University of Sydney.
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