If you have ever felt that the natural world is changing for the worse, then you have experienced solastalgia. The term basically means the distress from a changing environment close to your home, that your sense of place has been disrupted. I don’t know about you, but I see myself as a global citizen, on spaceship earth, and the earth is changing – it’s becoming more inhospitable. Looking at any news on the climate or ecological breakdown is extremely frightening, what is even scarier is that there are no signs of greenhouse gas emissions slowing down or even reversing. This year I have felt heart-wrenching emotions like never before, at the start of the year Australia experienced such an extreme heatwave it caused flying foxes to fall out of the sky from heat exhaustion, 23,000 of them died.
If you watched the Our Planet series on Netflix, then the scene of the walruses falling to their death off the top of a cliff because of the lack of sea ice just torn me up. The image below from behind the scenes of Our Planet brings out a lot of emotion in me, the impact we have on the natural world leaves us a lot to answer for.
There are so many different things that can trigger solastalgia. It could be local flooding, a dried-up pond you played in as a kid, a new housing estate, it could just well be that you’re sick of the ridiculously hot weather. Whatever it is that makes you feel unable to cope with our changing planet, there is always something you can do about it.
Personally, I have felt the full breadth of emotions when dealing with climate change. I was aware of the problem back in 2013 when I decided to complete a postgrad but as you can imagine completing a master’s in Environmental Sustainability and Green Technologies really opened my eyes to the scale of the problem. I’ve explored numerous scientific reports, articles, and books along with also reading Cli-Fi (climate fiction). I have been at the depths of fatalism feeling totally overwhelmed, close to giving up and becoming totally self-indulgent. But I have also been at the opposite end, totally empowered sharing this knowledge and passion to make the change we need to see happen.
What I am trying to say is that it is ok to stop and reflect where you are, you will feel a mix of emotions it is only natural when dealing with the grief that our lives are going to change. We can wait for the natural world to change our lives or we can accept that we need to change them sooner and keep some self-determination in how we live our lives. Once you realise where you are you can put in place changes to help yourself deal with this information. It is easy to fall into fatalism if you feel alone in tackling this issue, you can recycle everything, you can cut down/cut out meat, you can even refuse to fly and do your best to cycle everywhere but if you are doing it alone then you will feel like your actions don’t really make a difference.
The politics of climate crisis breaks everything down to the individual, it is people who are the problem and who need to change. Hardly surprising given the current dominant ideology neoliberalism… but I’m not going to delve into that one as this post is solely about trying to help people cope with climate change. The truth is people are not separate from the natural world and we are not separate from each other. When you try to deal with climate change alone through your own actions, of course, that is a great thing to do, but you are only halfway to solving the problem. Everything is connected and as soon as you go out and connect with others, make yourself part of the communities of people working together to make change happen that is where the real solution lies.
If we want to avoid ecological and therefore societal collapse, then we need to spread climate crisis information and we need to do it fast but most importantly we need to do it whilst helping each other along. Once you are part of a movement of a change then you are more resilient and so is the movement. When you are part of something larger than yourself, you are empowered, and when you do hit hard times, you may reach burn out, then you are around people who understand, and you can step back and look after yourself knowing that it is ok.
After coping with this for 5 years, I have tried almost everything.
The first thing is to take action, get involved in a group whose values align with yours and act in your own life what you believe to be true but also don’t be too hard on yourself that’s not doing anybody any good.
Don’t be Atlas, a Greek titan who held the heavens on his shoulders, don’t carry the weight of the world on your shoulders! Take breaks, this is probably the most important, nobody is superhuman and can cope with this information 24 hours a day. Find a hobby you love and give yourself time off, personally for me playing music and spending time in my allotment always grounds me.
Be healthy, trying to make a healthier world for everyone includes yourself. Eat well, sleep well and get regular exercise. If you do recognise that you aren’t feeling great go out for a walk somewhere or bike, run, swim, yoga, canoe, horse ride, hike, camp, dance… you get the idea. Get your body moving!
Reflect. Of course, it is important that we know the truth, the reality of the situation but we don’t want to live in fear. Fear has its place, it gears us into fight or flight, and we do need to fight. But being in this mindset 24/7 will make you mentally and physically unwell and running from the problem, ignoring it, that’s not good either. The opposite end of the scale is being in total hope, optimism that things will sort themselves out, it is easier to not act if you are too hopeful that the situation is going to improve. Reflection requires you to constantly bring yourself back into balance. Come up with your own personal resilience strategy and get active!
How do you cope with the information about climate and ecological breakdown on a daily basis? Do let us know!
-This blog post was written by Vanessa Odell, an Education for Sustainable Development Coordinator in the Green Academy Team at NTU.
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