Why do 23 percent of Americans still not believe in climate change? This is the largest percentage ever of climate change deniers and it comes at a time when 99.9 percent of climate scientists say climate change is occurring as the result of human activity. What is going on? Why are we not initiating policies and practices shown to be effective in changing the impact of human activity on global warming?
According to the World Health Organization, depression has reached epidemic proportions. Are climate change and soul loss related?
Solastalgia, a term minted by Australian philosopher and professor Glen Albrecht, is “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’.” [www.nytimes.com/2010/01/31/magazine/31ecopsych-t.html]
The term has spread from its origin describing the despair of residents of southeastern Australia when their beloved land was destroyed by coal mining. It applies to the pain of Native American Indians who lost the land they loved, to Inuit populations today as the Arctic melts, and perhaps even to Central Valley California farmers who cannot plant crops due to drought.
Solastalgia is characterized by depression, sadness, anxiety and rage. It attests to our innate (if unconscious) longing for a place we have loved. Nineteenth century wide-scale immigration into North America, which violently displaced native populations on this continent, has played a large part in this. The emigrants’ ruptured ties to their homeland may account for their willingness to take land from native people — who loved it and knew its needs and seasons. Love of place apparently became a luxury people could not afford. Instead, value was/is measured in dollars.
Sixty-four years ago, analytical psychiatrist Carl Jung stated, “Every man should have his own plot of land so that the instincts can come to life again.” He believed that our physical and emotional health is tied to a relationship to the earth.
When we see great changes in the environment caused by our actions, and when these changes appear to be beyond our personal control, we suffer. Denial is a primitive but very effective defense: This is not happening! Because, to really feel what is happening is painful. We can laugh at the ostrich sticking his head in the sand, but deep down we all use this defense in the face of overwhelming change. The good news is, denial is a stage of grief that allows us to organize ourselves as we move into acceptance and then action.
But staying in denial of a situation can be deadly. In the case of global warming, it allows us to believe economics justifies the practices, which continue to contribute to the dire state we are in. And then there is helplessness: Many feel the situation is of such magnitude it no longer matters what we do.
This could not be further from the truth. It is critical that we act. Recent studies on trauma and post-traumatic stress show that for our mental health alone we need to do something. We need a healthy relationship to the earth. To not have that is reflected in a kind of soul loss experienced as depression, anxiety, and lack of connectedness.
Here are six things you can do to help, not only yourself, but also the larger global problem:
- Love the land you are on. Spend more time listening to the rustling leaves of the tree outside your window or watching the ants marching along the sidewalk. Leave your cell phone inside.
- Learn what plants are native to the land you live on, and plant them. Studies show native plants bring back native birds and insects and help restore a local environment. Do not overlook your roof! Roof gardens cool cities and invite birds and beneficial insects.
- Learn to listen to what your unconscious delivers. Write down your dreams each night. Dreams are a shoreline for reclaiming what is not consciously acknowledged. Learn to gain guidance from them, and use this guidance in what you do.
- Eat at least one thing a day that comes from the earth outside your kitchen door or from your roof top. Know where the rest of your food comes from, and eat as much locally grown food as possible.
- Don’t be afraid of your sadness or grief for the losses that you witness, but join others in making a plan about what you can do. Make sure it is a plan you do out of love and enjoyment versus fear and duty. You will be doing it for a long time!
- Get to know your neighbors, human and non-human. Environmentalist and forester Aldo Leopold said that we cannot heal our relationship with the earth without healing our relationships with each other, and that we cannot heal our relationships with each other without healing our relationship with the earth.
Albrecht also studied areas of environmental activism in which there had been successes and found a strong sense of interconnectedness. He called this “soliphilia”: “the love of and responsibility for a place, bioregion, planet and the unity of interrelated interests within it.”
It is the responsibility of each of us to work with each other and the earth to restore what we have harmed. Action is critical and it is effective. It may well also return our lost souls.