The most interesting new word I’ve heard so far this year is ‘solastalgia‘, buried in some notes that Matt Jones made at a recent lecture by Geoff Manaugh of BLDGBLOG. It was coined five years ago by an Australian, Glenn Albrecht, and seeks to capture notions of place-related distress. Albrecht was quoted in an Australian article thus:
Solastalgia describes the pain experienced when the place a person lives is under assault and destruction, a loss of a sense of belonging to a particular place and a sense of desolation about its disappearance.
It’s not surprising that this idea should have come out of Australia, since the continent is rapidly becoming the poster-child for impact of climate change on eco-systems and social systems, as it experiences its worst drought for hundreds of years and its river systems dry up. (Futurismic suggested yesterday that the ‘real’ Mad Max story would play out in a post-drought world, not a post-nuclear one.)
Albrecht researched the effect of tbis on people’s psychology and perceptions, as Clive Thompson reported in Wired:
In interviews Albrecht conducted over the past few years, scores of Australians described their deep, wrenching sense of loss as they watch the landscape around them change. Familiar plants don’t grow any more. Gardens won’t take. Birds are gone. “They no longer feel like they know the place they’ve lived for decades,” he says… People are feeling displaced. They’re suffering symptoms eerily similar to those of indigenous populations that are forcibly removed from their traditional homelands. But nobody is being relocated; they haven’t moved anywhere. It’s just that the familiar markers of their area, the physical and sensory signals that define home, are vanishing. Their environment is moving away from them, and they miss it terribly.
This reminded me of the phrase people sometimes use when they’re asked why they left a job which has changed while they’re been doing it: “I think the job left me”.
In his lecture, Geoff Manaugh connected this with the recent map from French researchers which showed likely dramatic shifts in climate in Europe over the next sixty years (you can see the map on my post of a few months ago). Albrecht has found that the more rapid the change in the landscape, the more dramatic the psychological effects. Our connections to place and land are stronger than we often imagine. As Manaugh put it: the earth is becoming more unearthly.
Update (28 Jan): Geoff Manaugh has just blogged his version of the lecture at BLDGBLOG.
The picture is from Treehugger.