In his book Earth Emotions: New Words for a New World, eco-philosopher Glen Albrecht creates a new language to describe our feelings in relationship to earth and the devastation of the environments and habitats that sustain us. The English language has not created concepts for the ‘psychoterratic’ or psyche-Earth relationships. Earth Emotions explains what a love of life means and pinpoints the implications of its opposite: the contest between life-affirming and life-destroying forces. Language frames our thinking, can even limit our thinking. Albrecht has created words to frame our feelings in regards to mother earth and the grief associated with her degradation.
In a 2004 essay, he coined a term: “solastalgia,” a combination of the Latin word solacium (comfort) and the Greek root –algia (pain), which he defined as “the pain experienced when there is recognition that the place where one resides and that one loves is under immediate assault . . . a form of homesickness one gets when one is still at ‘home.’ ” This word was Albrecht’s starting place in the naming a whole new area of human emotional experience. He gives us the words to describe our feelings while we are witnessing the extinction of complex life and ecosystems on this planet.
Just as the loss of “heart’s ease” is not limited to displaced native populations, solastalgia is not limited to those living beside quarries, oil spills, power plants or Superfund sites. Solastalgia, in Albrecht’s estimation, is a global condition, felt to a greater or lesser degree by different people in different locations but felt increasingly, given the ongoing degradation of the environment. As our environment continues to change around us, the question Albrecht would like answered is, how deeply are our minds suffering in return? To repair a solastalgia-damaged psyche requires participation in Earth repair. Desolated places and psyches are both healed by restoration and repair of that which is causing the problem.
Some of the new words/concepts Albrecht has created include, meteoranxiety (anxiety about extreme weather related events), terrafurie (Earth anger or rage), tierracide (Earth murder), eutierria (a good Earth feeling), soliphilia (the cooperative politics and solidarity needed to defeat the forces of desolation), endemophilia (love of the endemic), and terraliben (let the Earth live).
He has also coined the term Generation Symbiocene (Gen S), the current generations who will reject ecocide to implement a world based on the principles of symbiosis and ecological living together (from the Greek, sumbios- a root word for symbiosis). Albrecht is hopeful due to the work of young people such as Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion. Their love of life and mother earth encourages them to devote their lives to good Earth emotions and helping their own children and grandchildren avoid the apocalypse and create the Symbiocene.
“The contest between life-affirming and life-destroying forces has now reached a tipping point. I wrote the book to help people tip towards the life-affirming, the terranascient. From that point onward, they have rejected the Anthropocene and are in the next age, the Symbiocene… There is a war of the emotions taking hold in human affairs in which the Earth creators (terranascient people) are being confronted by the Earth destroyers (terraphthorans). I argue that solastalgia and other negative Earth emotions can be defeated by a consolidated effort on the part of those who still have biophilia (love of life) within them and who care about future generations of humans and other beings. As far as I am concerned, there is nothing more important to engage with in the present moment.”
Offering a vocabulary to frame our thoughts and feelings regarding our relationship to earth and the places where we live and places that we love is a start towards regeneration and restoration. Action begins with thought and thought begins with language. Albrecht helps us bring meaning to our current experience and scaffolding to begin to take action to heal ourselves and the world that sustains life, our lives.
‘Breathing in, I know Mother Earth is in me.
Breathing out, I know that I am in Mother Earth.
Breathing in, I arrive.
Breathing out, I am home.’
Tich Nan Hahn