About eight years ago, Glenn Albrecht began receiving frantic calls from residents of the Upper Hunter Valley, a 6,000-squaree-mile region in southeastern Australia. For generations, the Upper Hunter was known as the “Tuscany of the South” – an oasis of alfalfa fields, dairy farms and lush English-style shires on a notoriously hot, parched continent. “The calls were like desperate pleas,” Albrecht, a philosopher and professor of sustainability at Murdoch University in Perth, recalled in June. “They said: ‘Can you help us? We’ve tried everyone else. Is there anything you can do about this?’
Residents were distraught over the spread of coal mining in the Upper Hunter. This open-pit mining, used chemical explosives to blast away soil, sediment and rock. The blasts occurred several times a day, sending plumes of gray dust over ridges to settle thickly onto roofs, crops and the hides of livestock. The residents were anxious, unsettled, despairing & depressed, just as if they had been forcibly removed from the valley. Only they hadn’t; the valley changed around them. In Albrecht’s view, the residents of the Upper Hunter were suffering not just from the strain of living in difficult conditions but also from something more fundamental: a hitherto unrecognized psychological condition.
Albrecht coined a term to describe it: “Solastalgia,” which he defined as “the pain experienced when there is recognition that the place where one resides and that loves is under immediate assault. . . . a form of homesickness one gets when one is still at ‘home’. Solastalgia, in Albrechts’s estimation, is a global condition, felt to a greater or lesser degree by different people in different locations but felt increasingly, given the ongoing degradation of the environment. As our environment continues to change around us, the question Albrecht would like answered is, how deeply are our minds suffering in return?