I learned a new word today: solastalgia. I came across it while reading the UN Intergovernmental Panel 2022 Report on Climate Change. There it was on page 17 of the Technical Summary.
Unequal Impact of Mental Health Challenges
Section TS.B.5.2 says, “Mental health challenges increase with warming temperatures (high confidence), trauma associated with extreme weather (very high confidence), and loss of livelihoods and culture (high confidence). Distress sufficient to impair mental health has been caused by climate-related ecological grief associated with environmental change (e.g. solastalgia)…” [Emphasis added.]
The section continues, “Vulnerability to mental health effects of climate change varies by region and population, with evidence that Indigenous Peoples, agricultural communities, first responders, women, and members of minority groups experience greater impacts (high confidence).”
What Does Solastalgia Mean?
I’d never seen the word “solastalgia” before and had to look it up. It was difficult. Websters Third International Dictionary didn’t have it. The 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary didn’t have it either. But Wikipedia did have a discussion of it. It’s a neologism – a new word entering the language.
According to Wikipedia, “solastalgia” was coined by philosopher Glenn Albrecht in his 2003 book Solastalgia: a new concept in human health and identity. He describes it as “the homesickness you have when you are still at home” and your home environment is changing in ways you find distressing. In many cases, this relates to climate change, but more localized events such as volcanic eruptions, drought or destructive mining techniques can cause solastalgia as well.
- You move to the forest because you like trees. But then a new development clearcuts all the trees near you.
- You like the serenity of living near water. Then Harvey floods your home without warning in the middle of the night and you narrowly escape with your life.
- Sand mines destroy the pristine environment around you where your family has lived for generations.
- Your home shifts, your walls crumble and your foundation cracks due to subsidence from increased groundwater pumping.
- You lose an irreplaceable heirloom during a flood, such as a family Bible, that brought constant comfort.
Deconstructing the Word
Solastalgia literally means “loss of solace.” Solace, in turn, means “comfort or consolation in a time of distress.” For instance, after the death of parent, you might seek solace by returning to the place where you grew up. But when you get there, you find a strip mine has obliterated the entire area. Now your grief doubles and you feel “solastalgia,” the loss of solace.
Distress Related to Income Level
Solastalgia affects people differently. Some groups are inherently more vulnerable and, therefore, may experience a greater sense of loss and grief. This study from a group of scholars at UCLA examined the impact of wildfires on psychological well-being.
They found a marked difference in the way high- and low-income groups processed loss. Those making more than $80,000 a year had resources to rebuild and experienced less grief. Those making less felt lost. The adverse financial impact of a fire felt insurmountable and left them with “clinically significant psychological distress.”
Those who lived in Houston during Hurricane Harvey can relate to this. Many are still trying to find the help to rebuild their homes and lives. The lucky ones moved on. Others still live among mold and rot, constant reminders of the day their lives changed forever.
I previously talked about flood psychology in terms of post traumatic stress disorder and re-traumatization. But I think solastalgia fits what I see better. Even 4.5 years after the flood. What do you think?
Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/4/22
1648 Days after Hurricane Harvey