How We Cope with the End of Nature

Stephen Marche in Nautilus:

FallsSolastalgia is the definitive disease of the 21st century but only a few even know its name. The symptoms include an underlying sense of loss, a vague sensation of being torn from the earth, a general out-of-placeness, homelessness without leaving home. You have probably felt it without knowing what it was. Solastalgia is the unease we inflict on ourselves as we create a world we don’t want to inhabit, a world stripped of nature. Nature is retreating, and not gradually. According to the World Wildlife Fund, over half of the world’s wild vertebrate species has disappeared over the past forty years. More than 290 million acres of North American grasslands have been converted to agriculture. At current growth rates, US development will reduce its forested regions by about 30 million acres by 2050. The amount of urban land in biodiversity hotspots is expected to increase by three times between 2000 and 2030. Deeper catastrophes, we know, are lurking. The North Pole has hovered near the freezing point this past winter. The partial breakdown of the Paris Accords, and the sudden spike in the consequences of climate change—icebergs the size of Delaware cracking off Antarctica, the bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef—are forcing us to face a hard truth. The future we are building is one with much less exposure to nature and vastly diminished biodiversity.

And this creates a new problem for us as a species: The experience of nature is integral to our wellbeing and, by destroying the earth, we are making ourselves sick. In 2003, Glenn Albrecht, then an environmental philosopher at the School of Environmental and Life Sciences at the University of Newcastle in Australia, coined the term solastalgia. Much like nostalgia, solastalgia is difficult to define with precision, but is nonetheless instantly recognizable: “Solastalgia,” Albrecht wrote, “is the pain or sickness caused by the loss of, or inability to derive solace from, the present state of one’s home environment. Solastalgia exists when there is recognition that the beloved place in which one resides is under assault.” The type of assault may vary. The force of the assault may vary. The loss and unease that follows in the wake of the assault do not.

Glenn Albrecht chose “solasta” as a new root word for two reasons. “Solasta” contains the sense both of “solace” and “desolation.” Where nostalgia describes a longing for another place and another time, solastalgia is a longing for the now as it should be, for nature when there’s no nature there.

More here.