The Startup
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The Startup

A homesickness when you’re already home

Exploring the global rise of solastalgia and climate change sadness

A lonely tree in a field. (GettyImages 536660158)

Confusion is next and next after that is the truth

Our four seasons are changing, becoming more unrecognisable with each passing year.

One month’s worth of rain can fall in a day, followed by weeks of drought and soaring temperatures. We fluctuate between reservoirs being half full and periods of annual flooding affecting our ability to take a train. We’re playing in snow in early March and wearing sunglasses and shorts a few weeks later.

Nature is confused. And for the genesis of this truth we need to point the finger at humanity and what we are doing to our planet.

Flowers bud and trees bloom early. Bird migration patterns are skewed, arriving prematurely at breeding grounds because global temperatures are rising. Exhausted bees flop on the ground dehydrated during the summer, their numbers dwindling because of intensive farming, habitat loss and climate change.

These are all events we can witness close to home in the South West of England. They have become normal.

As author Zadie Smith writes in Elegy for a Country’s Seasons:

“The train line to Cornwall washes away – the new normal.”

The world is changing. We’re creating a new normal

All over the world the recognised norm of nature has changed, is changing, continually shifting from something once known, to something new and unpredictable. Something which becomes a new normal.

The list of this change is long. And growing.

Polar ice caps are melting at a rapid rate, polar bears are starving and sliding into the sea. Ocean temperatures are rising, weakening ecosystems and food chains beneath the waves forever. A tide of near invisible microplastic contamination is everywhere – in our rivers and seas, beverages and food supplies.

Temperatures will continue to rise. We’ll see more droughts, more heat waves. Sea levels will rise. Ocean acidification will increase. Precipitation rates will fluctuate. There will be more extreme storms. Exposure to nature disasters will increase. Plant and animal ranges will keep shifting. More and more trees will be cut down. We’re facing a soil crisis. Further animals will become extinct.

The world has changed and this means that now, more than ever, our global mentality needs to dramatically shift to preserve our planet.

Welcome to the anthropocene

We are very much now part of generation anthropocene – the age in which our influence on the planet is so terrifying it has altered it forever.

Places in nature we may have known our whole lives have changed because of us.

Our footprints are all over the natural world and they have left a much longer lasting impression than a pattern imprinted into mud.

They have left a looming shadow over deep time that affects and reshapes the thousands of years of the natural world before it.

Whether it’s the felled ash tree in our back garden, the field where you used to play football as a child which is now built upon with rows and rows of indistinguishable houses, or our actual sense of place in the world as a whole, these can all be catalysts for us to experience a, once unnamed, form of melancholy, when places we love get permanently altered or destroyed.

An elegy for home

– Solastalgia: a form of mental or existential distress caused by environmental change.

It was Australian philosopher Glenn Albrecht who coined the term ‘solastalgia’ to express this feeling of homesickness when you are still at home. To describe a grief created by seeing a place you hold close to your heart come under immediate attack.

Simply put, solastalgia is: “the homesickness you have when you are still at home”.

Albrecht formed a word for this feeling during his research of the impact of open-cut coal-mining in New South Wales.

He discovered that communities who lived close to the mines were experiencing a chronic form of distress that was triggered by the negative changes to their home – the changing landscapes they could see from their windows, as well as a direct impact of this to their own health.

British nature writer Robert Macfarlane, known for his books on landscape, nature, place, people and language, takes this a step further.

“Where the pain of nostalgia arises from moving away, the pain of solastalgia arises from staying put. Where the pain of nostalgia can be mitigated by return, the pain of solastalgia tends to be irreversible.”

Filling the void

There are a growing number of examples where these negative legacies of change have been transformed into something positive.

Mine voids have been used for domestic waste disposal, secondary mining opportunities and even tourism and alternative land uses.

The Eden Project in Cornwall is one very successful example of this, transforming a huge china clay pit into a major tourist attraction and educational charity for the South West.

The Eden Project’s founder, Tim Smit said:

“I’d always loved the thought of a lost civilisation in a volcanic crater, and when I saw the lunar landscape of the old Cornish clay pits, I realised they’d be the perfect site.”

Importantly, Eden has a mission to promote sustainability and the vital relationship between plants, people and resources.

It has inspired like-minded industries such as green waste usage, plant nurseries and engineering and material science business start-ups.

We all need to, as businesses, families and individuals, start looking to protect our own locality and to reduce regional negative transformation.

We need to do this, because looking at the bigger picture, the whole Earth needs our help as our climate becomes more hostile and unpredictable.

Curing the sickness. Saving our planet

The first step to curing anything is to ensure it is talked about.

Solastalgia as a term is increasingly becoming more commonly known out of the scientific and environmental communities.

More and more so, the creative arts are carrying and exploring this message for younger generations to consume and process.

In music alone released in 2019, experimental artists Matmos released Plastic Anniversary – songs constructed entirely from processed sounds made by playing waste plastic. James Ferraro, a cultured voice for the anthropocene and critical futurist, dropped Requiem for Recycled Earth. While ambient artist Rafael Anton Irisarri released Solastalgia, citing this sadness as inspiration for the album:

“We find ourselves increasingly in a swell of solastalgia. Day to day, a vision of what might come to pass builds; one dystopian impression at a time. Change has never been humanities’ strong suit, but it has been our shadow.”

It is our responsibility to acknowledge a need to change today, for tomorrow, and for the planet’s future.

Each and every one of us need to get our own house in order. If we all do our own bit, then together we can start the healing process for our planet and future generations.

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