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Introducing Climate Psychology: facing the climate crisis
Introducing Climate Psychology: facing the climate crisis

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4.1 Solastalgia

The term solastalgia is, as mentioned before, closely related to eco-anxiety. It comes from the Latin word ‘solacium’ (comfort) and the Greek word ‘algos’ (pain) and is used to indicate a specific type of distress caused by the climate crisis. Namely the pain that people experience when beloved aspects of their environment are damaged by the changing climate, for example the loss or suffering of animal or plant species, a home destroyed by fire, wind or water, the felling or die-back of local trees. Shelot Masithi’s references to the mountains, waterfalls, streams and rivers of her childhood are an example of solastalgia. The term applies to pain from losses that have already occurred, and also from losses that people fear will happen in the future. The first feeds into the second. One strength of this term is that, through its emphasis on grief from real losses, solastalgia clarifies that eco-anxiety and related distress are closely linked to real-world happenings.

Activity 4 A range of emotions

Timing: Allow about 10 minutes

If you haven’t already, read the summary of the House of Lords submission and the CPA’s information on eco-anxiety.

Concern about climate change and environmental issues is highly prevalent across the UK (and worldwide) and increasingly associated with a range of painful eco-emotions, functional impairment, disturbing thoughts and feeling betrayed by governments who are failing to act. (…) Although painful, these emotions are realistic responses to the realities of today’s world. Depending on how we work with emotions, they have the potential to be either significant catalysts for change, or barriers leading to disengagement, avoidance, or paralysis.

(Marks et al., 2022, p. 4)

Make a list of all the different feelings and emotions that could be associated with the climate crisis. Do you think eco-anxiety is useful term? What are your preferred terms to describe anxious feelings about climate and ecological destruction?

The text in the image reads: Eco-anxiety is the most frequently used term in literature and research to describe heightened emotional, mental or somatic distress in response to dangerous changes in the climate system. The term climate anxiety is often used synonymously. A 2017 report by the American Psychological Association links the impact of climate change to mental health and references ‘eco-anxiety’ as a ‘chronic fear of environmental doom’. It is important to stress that CPA does not view eco-anxiety as a clinical condition, but an inevitable and even healthy response to the ecological threats we are facing, such as food/water shortages, extreme weather events, species extinction, increased health issues, social unrest and potentially the demise of human life on Earth. This has particular significance for children and young people who have little power to limit this harm, making the vulnerable to increased climate anxiety. Paying heed to what is happening in our communities and across the globe is a healthier response than turning away in denial or disavowal. The notion of solastalgia is closely related to eco-anxiety. Coined by the philosopher Glenn Albrecht, it refers to the existential pain experienced where one resides is subject to environmental degradation. Whatever words we use to illustrate the psychological effects of climate change, fear and anxiety are certainly not the only emotions people experience in relation to the climate emergency. Anger, helplessness, sadness, grief, depression, numbness, restlessness, sleeplessness and other symptoms can befall those who are able to face the facts. Fear and anxiety are feelings that alert us to danger and can mobilise us into action. Without enough support, anxiety can escalate into panic on one end of the spectrum or evoke a freeze response and paralyse on the other end of the spectrum. Rather than attempting to rid people of anxiety, therapists can support individuals and communities to build strong containers that allow the expression and exploration of their emotions without collapsing under it or turning away. With strong enough support structures in place, most people can sustain strong feelings without either dissociating and numbing or going into blind panic. They can engage with difficult truths while staying connected and grounded. Community groups, climate cafes, supervision groups, are just a few examples.