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A philosopher invented a word for the psychic pain of climate change

Solastalgia


[Solastalgia] is the pain experienced when there is recognition that the place where one resides and that one loves is under immediate assault (physical desolation). It is manifest in an attack on one’s sense of place, in the erosion of the sense of belonging (identity) to a particular place and a feeling of distress (psychological desolation) about its transformation.


In the early 2000s, a philosopher named Glenn Albrecht at the University of Newcastle in Australia began to look for the words. “With my wife Jill, I sat at the dining table at home and explored numerous possibilities,” he wrote in 2005. “One word, ‘nostalgia’, came to our attention as it was once a concept linked to a diagnosable illness associated with the melancholia of homesickness for people who were distant from their home.”


But what of people who are not at a geographic distance from the object of their homesickness? What words are there for people who are watching the earthly elements of their home morph into something that feels remote, while they stay put? Spatially, nostalgia wasn’t right. Albrecht coined the term “solastalgia” (perhaps along with Jill, though she does not make another appearance in the paper explaining the term).


Solastalgia is a combination of three elements: “Solas” references the English word “solace,” which comes from the Latin root solari meaning comfort in the face of distressing forces. But it is also a reference to “desolation,” which has its origins in the Latin solus and desolare,which both connote ideas of abandonment and loneliness. “Algia” comes from the Greek root -algia, which means pain, suffering, or sickness.


Solastalgia, Albrecht writes, has the added benefit of being a “ghost reference” to nostalgia, sounding similar enough to evoke the feeling of longing contained in that word. “Hence, literally, solastalgia is the pain or sickness caused by the loss or lack of solace and the sense of isolation connected to the present state of one’s home and territory,” he writes. Solastalgia, then, is a very intimate word, describing a psychic pain with very specific origins. Here are the best parts of Albrecht’s definition:

[Solastalgia] is the pain experienced when there is recognition that the place where one resides and that one loves is under immediate assault (physical desolation). It is manifest in an attack on one’s sense of place, in the erosion of the sense of belonging (identity) to a particular place and a feeling of distress (psychological desolation) about its transformation.






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