In 2005, a new term was coined to describe “an emerging form of depression or distress caused by environmental change, such as from climate change, natural disasters, extreme weather conditions, and/or other negative or upsetting alterations to one’s surroundings or home.” The term is SOLASTALGIA.
As a resident Houstonian for almost 40 years of my life, I have certainly witnessed the deforestation of its outlying areas and the continual urbanization and over development for commercial, industrial and residential interests. Even new residents have expressed to me in their distress and depression at witnessing the clear cutting of lots for development in their neighborhoods. I can recall my own distress at witnessing the removal of old growth trees along a road I traveled everyday that was being widened and how the changes taking place made me feel as I observed the landscape around me.
“We have room for all these cars,” I was thinking, “but no room for the beauty of nature to exist.”
I would ask myself, “Where are the deer and other animals going to live that were once living in this little patch of trees?” I know it might seem eco-wimpy to the business-minded, but I honestly felt true sadness and a sense of loss, anger, and hopelessness at this thought of displaced wildlife. Where there once was a huge patch for thick forest, there stood a massive shopping center with dozens of stores, restaurants, and other businesses that I never asked for.
Houstonians are now quite familiar with distress of solastalgia, which for some may feel like weather-induced PTSD. We have naturally dealt with hurricanes and flooding many times, but the severity has increased to such a degree that for several years in a row right before Hurricane Harvey, people experienced their houses flooding every year for multiple years.
I realized while teaching first graders in 2019, that whenever a storm started to brew outside, many of my students were unusually fearful. I attributed this to experiencing these successive years of catastrophic flooding.
Lately, I have been more intentionally spending time in the outdoors, working in my garden, talking walks to observe the sunrise or sunset, and making sure I get exposure to sunlight, fresh air, and bare earth. It has been a form of therapy.
As a teacher I worry about the young people I work with and this trend of solastalgia. In big cities such as Houston, kids do not have much access to forests or other prairieland unless their parents take them to one, which involves getting into a car and driving there. Even kids in the suburbs will be hard pressed in our environment to find anything remotely “wild” enough to consider it “natural.” I am sure there are millions of children the world over that have a similar experience. I have seen children in recent years who are terrified by a bug flying past their face on the recess field at school, or those that are terrified of a few ants on the ground. We have become this disconnected from nature.
The gigantic Loblolly Pine Forests that surrounded Houston by may become so rare that children will only be able to enjoy them in photos on their devices. I have half a mind to start organizing trips to nature areas in the form of an afterschool club to allow more kids the opportunity to go to a forest before we run out of them completely.
Truly, if we want to protect nature, we need to understand it. And if we want to understand it, we need to spend time in it for starters. For parents, this means getting our kids off their devices and doing healthier pastimes that get them outdoors.
How will we transform our relationship to the earth? Where can you connect this concept of your relationship to the earth and its climate in your life? Our current 12-14 year olds are the forerunners of the Pluto in Capricorn generation. I wonder how the current generation of 12-14 year olds will work with this despair, this growing mental illness, and how they will transform it. Pluto is the transformational planet and Capricorn is CARDINAL EARTH. For those studying astrology, consider which planets represent our connection to the earth itself? Which signs best describe this connection? Earth signs? (Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn) With Pluto representing TRANSFORMATION, life, death and rebirth at a deep level, we can imagine that this Pluto in Capricorn generation will do some heavy lifting in terms of transforming our connection to the earth. How will we support them in building a strong connection to nature? We won’t get to a healthy environment by continuing what we have done so far. It is time for new thinking about this issue and how children spend time indoors versus outdoors.
Some have connected SOLASTALGIA to the idea of WETIKO. Read more about it here. Share your comments, please! Have you experienced distress about the environment?