Glenn Albrecht believes that a new drama is unfolding in the minds of postmodern, 21st century humans: the competing forces of solastalgia and soliphilia.
Albrecht is a professor of sustainability at Murdoch University in Perth, Australia. He coined both terms himself. His technical definition for solastalgia is “a feeling of desolation or melancholia about the emplaced and lived experience of the chronic deterioration of a loved home environment” (see Philosophy, Activism, and Nature, 2005, issue 3, pp. 41-55).
Put more simply, in his 2010 TED talk, solastalgia is a feeling of homesickness while still at home, because a place of familiarity – a place that once instilled feelings of safety and comfort – has been destroyed. It’s a loss of solace, a sense of isolation and powerlessness, in the face of that destruction. It’s like nostalgia, but the loss is lived in three dimensional space and rooted in place.
Soliphilia is the counterbalance to solastalgia: a sense of consolation and solidarity; an affirmation of life in the face of death, creation in the face of destruction. It is “the love of the totality of our place relationships and a willingness to accept… the political responsibility for the health of the earth, our home.”
For Albrecht, this is the drama that defines us and our world. Solastalgia or soliphilia. Despair or hope. Tragedy or triumph.
Our recent group project in Green Communities has been all about moving from solastalgia to soliphilia. We identified neighborhoods in Salt Lake City with dangerous proximity to major roadways (see my earlier post on this topic) and proposed transition strategies that would promote health, justice, and sustainability: ways for the community to reclaim the streets for walking, biking, and public transit, including changes to infrastructure, public policy, and individual behavior. We proposed narrowing auto lanes or eliminating them entirely; reducing speed limits and creating mid-block raised crosswalks; establishing bike paths protected by green medians and bioswales; re-routing traffic away from residential areas and school zones; introducing streetcars and a bus rapid transit system; pursuing multi-use, transit oriented development patterns; and hosting a green parade, focused on building awareness and mobilizing support for large-scale action.
The amazing realization came during our in-class presentations, as different groups, who had been working separately and focusing on different locations, made proposals with incredible synergies and similarities. We suddenly became aware that our vision for a better future is a shared vision, and is closer than we imagined.
This is the triumph Glenn Albrecht hopes we can achieve. We see large, dangerous roadways forcing the home-like quality out of our communities; but, we respond with empowerment, rather than despair, because we know we are not alone. Like minds are all around us. We need only to accept that the responsibility for a better future is ours, and to work together at making that future a reality.