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Global Dread, Eco-Paralysis and the Emotions of Ice: Glenn Albrecht's Brilliant Analysis of Eco-Emotions and Climate Change at Vancouver's Resilient People +Climate Change Conference

Dr. Glenn Albrecht is professor of sustainability at Murdoch University in Perth, Australia. He conducts internationally relevant trans-disciplinary research in the domain of sustainability and ecosystem health and has also produced research papers/publications in environmental history, sustainability, environmental politics, and animal ethics.

He spoke this morning at the Resilient People + Climate Change panel. Here's a rough sketch of what he said:

Glenn Albrecht's Philosophy of the Eco-Emotional

"I'm a philosopher who regularly transgresses into other people's disciplines. I've been interested in the relationship between ecological health and human health for a long time. I'm interested in ecosystem health and its relationship to mental health. Language is not really rich enough to cover a lot of these concepts, at least the English language is not. Since we're seeing emergent global-scale ecological degradation plus climate change, the need for these concepts is even greater.

“The basics of my work involve looking at how climate change is disrupting the regular predictability of life on Earth. Some of the basics we forget about are the way the cosmos is set up, the way we get patterns and rhythms associated with lunar tides and seasons. 

“The order that we have is connected to the fundamentals of our lives, our sleep patterns, breeding seasons, menstrual cycles, biochemical patterns -- all tied to order, rhythm, and pattern in our lives. These things can become disordered through all sorts of anthropogenic causes. Climate change is one of the biggest drivers, and the distress that people and other organisms experience as a result is a very powerful form of distress.

“I gave a talk recently on the distress in non-human beings that will be caused by climate change. I'm one of the first philosophers to think about what will happen to animals who will have to move due to climate change, when they're confronted with competition for habitat as a result of shifts in migratory routes.

“As a result, I've introduced new categories of thought about illness:

1. Psychoterratic illness refers to Earth-related mental illness

2. Somaterratic illness that relate to body/physiological damage caused by toxic pollution and the loss of ecosystem health in any given context

3. Ecoanxiety, Ecoparalysis, Solastalgia (describes the lived experience of negative environmental change)

“[Edvard] Munch had it right in "The Scream." His image could be seen as an attempt to encapsulate the response to climate change. Sky depicts global warming, evidence of sea-level rise. Eco-anxiety is the anxiety people have about these changes.

“In the Arctic, people's anxiety is likely to be more powerful than people living in the cities. But the information about change is now becoming overwhelming and people's anxiousness about change is something we need to take into consideration.

Global Dread: Waking up in the morning and feeling dread about the ecological state of the world.

Eco-Paralysis: The feeling you can't do anything about any of it. This appears as apathy, complacency or disengagement. You can change your light-bulbs but most people know this isn't adequate to address the scale of what's taking place.

Deliver Us from Insanity: Mental-health issues could be second only to heart disease. Depression in particular. [Albrecht shows slide of Hunter Valley coal mining and says that the whole valley has been treated in an insane manner, which, in turn, affects people.]

Solastalgia: Pain or sickness caused by the inability to derive solace from the present state of one's home environment. It is the lived experience of negatively perceived environmental change to one's sense of place and existential well-being. Feelings of powerlessness and a loss of hope about the future. Solastalgia is a form of homesickness one experiences...when one is still at ‘home.’

“Nostalgia is the homesickness you have when you're away from home and wish to return.

“These people I interviewed in a valley in Australia where severe strip mining had happened expressed their solastalgia in physical terms.”

The Emotions of Ice

The loss of ice. [Albrecht highlights a slide that shows a photographer’s work that illustrates “the emotions of ice.”]

“Glaciers are disappearing,” says Albrecht. “Some are already gone. You can only have a form of nostalgia for that glacier. Eco-nostalgia is a very real response to what's going on.

“There are cycles of Distress: Landscape changes. Human distress that affects people's cortisol (a stress hormone) levels and that ultimately plays into other issues.

“Solastalgia is emplaced change, a loss of solace, melancholia. Soliphilia, meanwhile, is a love of the whole, an effort to unify and create political solidarity, a collective response to the problems we're having.

“All the ‘algias’ are winning at the moment and everybody in this room knows that. We need some ‘philias’ to replace them. We need a whole way of life. Solidarity between us to keep healthy and strong -- for all that we have in common.”

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