Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford

  • 10 December 2018

Solastalgia in the Anthropocene

Every year our MSc Students in Environmental Change and Management break into groups and prepare some sort of exposition on the theme of Global Change and the Biosphere in the Anthropocene. This video was the winning entry this year, telling the story of environmental change and loss as experienced in each of the student's home regions.

Further below, in the students' own words, are further descriptions of the events they refer to.

Solastalgia, a variation on the concept of nostalgia, is defined by Albrecht et. al. (2007) as, “the distress caused by environmental change”. Impacts of environmental change on daily life can often be diffuse and difficult to articulate; furthermore, environmental problems are often addressed in scientific or policy terms. As such, the living, emotional aspects of environmental degradation can be rendered abstract and clinical. For this piece, each participant chose an environmental problem that was personal to them and portrayed that experience on their body, in an attempt to represent the lived experience of Solastalgia and the often-overlooked personal impacts of environmental change.

“Paradise” – Alexandria Herr

The Camp Fire in early November of 2018 was the deadliest and most destructive fire in California history. 88 people died, over 13,000 homes were destroyed, and 50,000 people were displaced. Many small communities, including Paradise, CA, were wiped off the map. The fire gained national and international attention, especially because many residents filmed their evacuation with their families and shared the footage on social media and YouTube. The audio used in this clip is extracted from one such video. Though attribution of fires is difficult, especially because land management practices differ across forests, climate change does make the dry, hot conditions which increase the probability of wildfires more likely.

"Breathe" – Sophia Rhee

Using a news clip from 2016, audio in this segment is highlighting how an OECD report listed South Korea as a country projected to see one of the highest increases in mortality rates from air pollution by 2060. As someone with family in Korea and who returns every so often, this is a concerning, and highly noticeable, trend. I am saddened to see the beautiful mountains surrounding Seoul becoming slowly obscured year-round, I worry for my family who will no doubt feel these health effects, and I feel the loss of the dense green landscape and traditions I once knew.

“Nitrification” –Joshua Arens

I chose to look at how agriculture changes the environment—specifically bodies of water. Agricultural runoff, whether it be from fertilizers or livestock manure, ends up in rivers and lakes, leading to their nitrification and eventual degradation. Having grown up on a cattle and crop farm, I’m directly a part of this problem. When working on this project, I was thinking of a small lake in one of our pastures, which no longer supports aquatic life after livestock manure from the neighboring farm was washed into it during a storm. That was when I realized for the first time that agriculture can do real damage to the natural world.

“Eutrophication” – Sarah Novak

New Zealand is known for its stunning landscapes and supposed environmental purity. Yet, contrary to popular images of the country, more than 60 percent of our rivers and lakes are now unswimmable. This is largely due to eutrophication and toxic algal blooms created by agricultural runoff. Having grown up in New Zealand, I feel a deep sense of loss at now being unable to swim freely in our waterways. These images are an attempt to reveal how my solastalgia for clean, healthy rivers is felt holistically, across both body and the mind, and to link that sense of loss to the ecosystem losses that have occurred at a grand scale across New Zealand's landscapes.

“Surge” – Sapphire Deana Vital

Category 5 Hurricane Maria made landfall on Dominica on the 18th of September 2017. Having never experienced an intense hurricane, stepping outside of my home after that sleepless night I was confounded. The mountains, normally clothed in lush greens, were stripped bare. Infrastructure was demolished largely beyond recognition. Beaten and flounced by the high rains and winds, my quaint nature isle of the Caribbean was transformed into little more than a landfill. Hurricane Maria devastated Dominica, causing catastrophic storm surge, flooding, and landslides which wrought immense damage and robbed dozens of people of their lives. The increased intensity and frequency of such weather events are thought to be exacerbated by warming oceans caused by climate change. Dominica, as well as other Caribbean islands affected by the hyper active 2017 hurricane season, now strive to recover and fortify themselves for the inevitable storms we know are to come.


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