Violaine Verougstraete, Eurometaux
Printed with permission from EUROMETAUX Chemicals Management News – Issue No 97, January 2020

You have most probably already come across this situation: when you come back to a place you have not seen for a number of years and instead of finding the “familiar landscape” composed of trees, space to run or bike through, the scent of grass and nature, there is a parking lot assorted with construction, and fences cutting through the scenery. Or, you see the green surroundings of your home, which were one of the reasons that you bought the place, sold – invaded by cranes and transformed without any possible action to be taken (as a child I went repeatedly on-site to mingle with the landmarks but it is not efficient, believe me! ). The feelings you experience at that moment are a mix of melancholia and powerlessness comparable to what is now described as solastalgia.

According to Wikipedia, solastalgia is a neologism describing a form of mental or existential distress caused by environmental change. Often proposed in reference to global climate change, it is also associated with more localized events such as volcanic eruptions, drought or even destructive mining techniques. The word was created by the philosopher Glenn Albrecht in 2005, and results from the combination of the words sōlācium (Latin, for comfort) and the root -algia (Greek, for pain). Albrecht created the concept to evoke something similar to nostalgia but with an imbedded reference to place. He stated that any context where place identity is challenged by pervasive change to the existing order has the potential to deliver solastalgia. New technologies have enabled transitions to occur to social and natural environments at a speed that makes adaptation difficult, if not impossible. While some might respond to such stress with nostalgia and want to return to a past state or place where they felt more comfortable, others will experience solastalgia and express a strong desire to sustain those things that provide them with “solace.”

Interestingly, he argued (close to 15 years ago!) that the progress with IT and communications makes the experience of solastalgia possible for people who strongly empathize with the idea that the Earth is their home and that witnessing events that destroy endemic place identity (cultural and biological diversity) anywhere on earth are personally distressing to them.

This idea was further investigated and applied and in 2015 the medical journal The Lancet included solastalgia as a contributing concept to the impact of climate change on human health and well-being.

A concept to consider in our discussions on the Green Deal and the requests society–including you and me– have for a ‘home’ and a sustainable environment. It is a driver, a concern at multiple scales, we should be able to listen to.

But I also want to highlight the companion notion of adamastophilia, recalled by a French editor, where “adamastos” refers to what is ‘intact’ or untamed and englobes the admiration and gratitude we feel for the landscapes that have not yet been damaged, which are intact. Because we also need this other part of the discussion, i.e., the opposite, the luminous, the driver to transform distress into actions. As concluded by the editor, we also need to be overcome by the strong emotion that there is still beauty on Earth and that the fact it is so fragile makes it even more beautiful!

Author’s contact information: verougstraete@eurometaux.be

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