Feeling like climate change is making home unrecognizable? There's a word for that
Wildfires and smoky skies have prompted feelings of solastalgia for many Canadians
As wildfires spark air quality alerts and ominous orange skies, some Canadians are becoming more familiar with the term — and feeling of — solastalgia.
"Solastalgia is a word that was coined by an Australian scholar [Glenn Albrecht] for the kind of homesickness that we feel, even though we haven't left home," said environmental journalist Madeline Ostrander.
"So in other words, we're living in places that are starting to change and develop in ways that we don't always recognize."
In the book At Home on an Unruly Planet: Finding Refuge on a Changed Earth, Ostrander documents work done by Americans to protect the places they call home from the climate crisis.
She said that many people have personal connections to the places they live, so when it gets disrupted by wildfires or heatwaves it's very upsetting.
Here's part of that conversation with The Current host Matt Galloway.
How do you feel and why do you feel that word captures what so many people have been feeling right now?
I think more and more we're starting to experience the impacts of climate change in the places that we live in, and those impacts can be really alarming.
The idea of home is partly a sense of safety, right? So there's few things that feel more unsafe than not being able to breathe the air around you — and wildfire smoke is just as profoundly unsettling, I think.
So I think we're having this shared experience of feeling like home isn't quite the same place that we knew before.
It's really quite something, that idea of feeling homesick, even though you haven't left your home. Something is different, right?
Yes, a tremendous amount of uneasiness.
I think it also acknowledges how connected we are to our homes and our communities and the places that we care about. I think we sometimes don't acknowledge how profound those connections are and how much they matter to us.
It's important to give it a name too, right? Whether it's this name or whether it's eco-anxiety, to acknowledge that it's something, to acknowledge that people are going through something.
I think it also helps us realize that we're feeling something shared, and I think there's a lot of power in noticing a collective feeling. A lot of social movements have grown out of collective feelings.
Glenn Albrecht also came up with another word called Soliphilia, which is about the shared sense of joy and unity and connectedness and solace that we can find when we come together and try to do things to protect our communities and our homes.
So that same sense of connectedness to home can be a source of anxiety and grief when we're experiencing these impacts, but can also be a source of strength when we're trying to figure out how to respond to these crises.
How do you get to that place where you can find something ... motivating in that moment?
I think you do have to acknowledge the grief and the fear and awfulness, honestly, of some of these impacts, living through smoke and wildfire and hurricanes. Being displaced from our home is traumatic and I think we need to be real about the traumas that people are experiencing.
One thing that I've found in talking with scholars who deal with grief, [is that] grief has often been the territory of ... religions. But, fewer and fewer Americans and Canadians are part of organized religion these days, and so I think we need to create more shared spaces for people to talk about grief.
Grief isn't actually just an individual thing that you should deal with only with your therapist or only with your friends or only in your own particular space. It is a shared feeling, and I think processing it collectively is actually really important.
As you live through this moment … where are you finding a sense of refuge in this?
To some degree, I feel like that's part of why I do the kind of journalism that I do. It puts me in touch with people in my region and people across the country; scientists, community organisers, sometimes just people who cared about the community that they lived in. That often becomes the basis for them to take action — and I see that everywhere.
I think that gives me hope. That sense of caring then leads to conversations about how we keep these places safe and how we navigate the kinds of transitions we need to be able to make the climate crisis less severe and also be able to adapt to some of those impacts.
So for people … who were experiencing those emotions over the last several weeks, maybe for the first time … what should they do from that moment? What should they take from that word?
I think one of the biggest things they can take from that word is that they're not alone in feeling this sense of uneasiness, and I think also we can recognize that while we feel this pain and this grief and this fear, we're not just hapless in the face of these kinds of impacts.
There's a lot of things that communities can do to prepare themselves for the impacts of wildfire and the impacts of flooding and other kinds of things that we're facing because of climate change. There's a lot of things that people can get involved in in their community in terms of ecosystem restoration.
For instance, here out west, there's a lot of forest conservation strategies that can actually buffer us against wildfire. And if we can put those into place across the West, we might be able to change what the outcome is, what our future looks like.
I realize that's a daunting thing to think about when you're dealing with a space of grief. But I think just reaching out and connecting to other people who are feeling this and talking about it is a huge step toward figuring out what we do next.
Produced by Magan Carty and Willow Smith. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.