Solastalgia

There was a scene in the movie ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ that made me cry. It took me by surprise, as it wasn’t a sad or emotional moment in the plot: the apes had escaped across the Golden Gate Bridge and reached the safety of the redwoods forest. I had previously read a book about the destruction of almost all of North America’s ancient redwoods — the largest and tallest trees in the world — and when I saw these beautiful towering giants on the screen, the tears suddenly started to flow. ‘What is wrong with me!?!’, I wondered. It was like an upwelling of some kind of suppressed ecological grief.

On this journey I have met numerous environmental activists who have shared similar stories with me, and tried to convey the distress and despair they feel over the size and urgency of the big environmental problems we face. It seems to add to their stress load and wears them down.

It’s hard to explain and there often doesn’t seem to be the words for it. Near Newcastle I met with environmental philosopher Glenn Albrecht, who pioneered the research field of ‘psychoterratic’, or earth-related mental health conditions. He introduced words into the literature like ‘Solastalgia’, meaning the mental or existential distress and melancholia caused by environmental degradation, locally or globally.