Don’t go getting solastalgic, now

Published Tuesday, November 22, 2016 in the New Brunswick Telegraph Journal and the Fredericton Daily Gleaner.

November can be pretty bleak.  The days become short, and fall brilliance gives way to chilly starkness.

For anyone who cares about our environment, this fall has been particularly bleak.

Last month, the World Wildlife Fund reported devastating declines in marine, freshwater and terrestrial species – in other words, just about everything – over the past four decades, mainly because of habitat loss, overexploitation and climate change.  Australia’s famed Great Barrier Reef is in the midst of a disturbing die-off of coral.

2016 will almost certainly be the new hottest year on record, exceeding 2015, the old record, which exceeded 2014, the prior record.  Earlier this month, a group of leading climate scientists published a paper suggesting that warming is happening far faster than expected, and that the planet could warm by as much as seven degrees by 2100. 

Amid this, America has elected a climate change denier – with pivotal support coming from Florida, the state first in line to be devastated by rising sea levels.

It’s almost enough to give you solastalgia.

Solastalgia

Solastalgia is defined as the psychological distress caused by a change in one’s environment – essentially, how huge and frightening realities like climate change affect our mental health.  

The word was first proposed in 2003 by philosopher Glen Albrecht.  It hasn’t quite hit mainstream English yet, but it’s certainly making its rounds in the world of clinical psychology – and with good reason.  Stories about the mental health impacts of climate change were rare occurrences in my news feeds just a few years ago, but they now show up regularly.

Stories about how climate change is making people feel overwhelmed, powerless and hopeless.  About how a rise in anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, absenteeism, suicide and violence can be expected.

About how our health care systems are not ready.

About how climate change is amplifying pressures on farmers, a demographic already under constant strain.  

About the lonely struggles of those who understand climate change and care deeply about solving it, but feel the need to censor their own words for fear of becoming social outcasts or pariahs.

And, just last week, how some scientists and reporters are getting climate change-related nightmares.  

Take heart, take care, take action

If some of the symptoms of solastalgia ring familiar for you, first take heart.  There’s a global renewable energy revolution underway, and it’s bigger than the US election result.  Many nations, including China, have reaffirmed their support the Paris Accord and are encouraging the US to do the same.  More than 360 major corporations and investors last week called upon the president-elect to honour the US’s Paris commitments. 

Equally important, solar and wind power continue to get cheaper by the day.  Global emissions appear to have flattened for the second year in a row, led by China’s impressive movement away from coal. 

So take heart.

Then take care of yourself, both physically and spiritually.  Exercise, go outside, talk to friends, maintain a healthy work-life balance, connect with like-minded people, take up yoga or meditation and laugh as much as you can.

Finally, take action: reach deep within for strength, and then do whatever you can – be it calling an elected leader, making a change in your lifestyle or anything else.  Every action, big or small, makes a difference.  As Mark Reynolds of the Citizens Climate Lobby put it last week, “You are still the world’s best hope for preserving a livable planet.”

As climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe wrote in a letter to the president-elect, “Far more connects us than divides us.”

And as the world-changing people at Avaaz reminded last week, “Our brightest lights emerge from our deepest darknesses.” 

So, with hope and courage, let’s dispel any specter of solastalgia, and rededicate ourselves to solutions.