New words for a changing land
Hidden beneath the fabric of modern life lies our endless quest to be with nature. Yet the socialization of nature’s deficit has emerged as a distressing condition that afflicts us, forcing us to escape from the routine of desert life from time to time. With a global epidemic of depression upon us, has our dream of existence ever reached a precipice? Or so it seems if the overwhelming use of the negative eco-emotional typology lately is any indication. It is not without reason that terms such as biophobia, ecocide, toponesia and ecoparalysis have come to dominate our assessment of the impact of the Anthropocene as a fait accompli for living things.
As global warming and environmental disasters occur with increasing intensity, the ascendancy of negative emotions remains a compulsive human response that recognizes that fear of nature is not only real but also systemic. Every human culture has its own version of fighting negative emotions to stay ahead, otherwise humans would have long been consumed by the cumulative impact of destructive emotions. While both types of emotions are necessary, we need to understand why pessimism and distress overwhelm people around the world and how to find ways to nurture emotions of optimism and empathy to bring order. It is undeniable that for the situation to change, the state of disorientation and distress of the being needs an urgent resolution.
If negative emotions are allowed to grow and dominate, the fear of systemic ecosystem collapse will further alienate each succeeding generation from nature and life. Unless controlled, not only will environmental degradation continue to increase, but every generation will accept impoverished nature as the norm. This will only allow anthropocene obscenities to attack the foundations of life and the processes of life. It is only through a hopeful vocabulary of positive emotions that the condition of general environmental amnesia can be overcome. Will the new words help us grasp the chronic nature of biophysical changes differently?
It is this compelling question that environmental philosopher Glenn Albrecht has sought to answer through new words that capture the feeling of psychological desolation. Born out of his lived reality of homelessness and helplessness in Australia’s Hunter Valley, Solastalgia was invented to capture the homesickness one feels when still at home. Created in 2003 by combining solacium (comfort) and algia (grief), the word has gained credence in academic debates and popular culture to describe a form of emotional distress caused by environmental change. Although creating a word does not give more power to experience, it does give the power of better understanding and reflection. Albrecht deserves praise for breaking the boundaries of vocabulary to better understand the world we live in.
The power of Earth Emotions is that it is both imaginative and real. This in-depth and meticulously researched book introduces the reader to no less than a dozen new words, from soliphilia to sumbiophilia, without which the full range of our emotional responses to a rapidly changing world might not be addressed. It was the gradual success of solastalgia that encouraged Abrecht to invent more words to direct positive emotions toward repairing man-earth relationships. Soliphilia came out as one that describes peoples’ response to biophysical desolation through political and political action.
No protective layer
By placing a form of love at the heart of the new vocabulary, Albrecht followed a not-so-linear path of replacing negative emotions with positive earthly emotions. Given the outright integration of the Anthropocene into all aspects of life, the protective layers of positive emotions have literally been stripped away. There are no two thoughts on this, and all the more reason to rediscover the lost words for landscapes, natural objects and natural processes to identify feelings and emotions. It’s a pioneering endeavor that the author describes as neither idealistic nor atavistic, but one that allows the reader to understand what it’s like to avoid being tossed about in an environmental storm.
Earth Emotions is an interdisciplinary philosophical work that unites eco-crises with eco-linguistics. It is an ambitious undertaking that challenges the very premise of global governance that has brought us to this impending state of ecological, economic and climate collapse.