In his recent book Underland, Robert Macfarlane recounts a conversation he had with Dr Merlin Sheldrake in Epping Forest regarding how humans attempt to explain the connections and networks which are being discovered amongst trees below the surface. Tired of the same worn analogies Sheldrake states that ‘The forest is always more complicated than we can ever dream of’, to which Macfarlane suggests ‘Maybe, then, what we need to understand the forest’s underland … is a new language altogether’. In Earth Emotions, Albrecht explores new language, new emotions and new concepts, which can begin to bridge the gap between humans and nature to create a symbiotic relationship, rather than a translatory one.
An Australian environmental philosopher, Albrecht draws on his personal history, work and beliefs in Earth Emotions, to ultimately suggest a positive route forward within the current environmental crisis. In the ‘Introduction’ Albrecht states that the emotional makeup of humans is locked into a battle between what he calls ‘terraphthora’ and ‘terranascia’, the former being negative emotions and the latter more positive. He concludes that it is the more nurturing emotions associated with ‘terranascia’ which prevails, otherwise humans would have destroyed themselves long before now. In the twenty-first century however, Albrecht believes that this battle is raging openly ‘in a period of rapid cultural and biophysical turmoil’. He believes it will only be through embracing terranascient emotions that the earth will begin to flourish once more.
In a chapter entitled ‘Solastalgia: The Homesickness You Have at Home’, Albrecht describes the origins of the word and emotions associated with ‘Solastalgia’. Whilst working in the Hunter Valley, Albrecht was encountering more and more people suffering from emotional afflictions perpetuated by the increase in open cut mining in the area. Similar to the sentiment of nostalgia, Albrecht identified that these people were homesick, but they had not been displaced or forcibly removed, they remained at home. Therefore, Albrecht concluded that the people ‘were losing solace or comfort once derived from their relationship to a home that was now being desolated by forces beyond their control’. Not able to attribute a suitable word to these emotions Albrecht combined ‘solace’ from the Latin ‘solari’ and ‘desolation’ from the Latin ‘desolare’ and created ‘solastalgia’, which is the ‘pain or distress caused by the ongoing loss of solace and the sense of desolation connected to the present state of one’s home and territory’.
Albrecht introduces the concept of the ‘symbiocene’ in the chapter entitled ‘The Psychoterratic in the Symbiocene: Positive Earth Emotions’ as a helpful next step in human time upon the earth, rather than being associated with the negative connotations of the ‘Anthropocene’. Albrecht explains that humans have separated themselves from the rest of nature through believing we are physically and morally autonomous, competition between individuals rules in both nature and society, and the belief that competition in a free market within an economy is an expression of natural competitive order. Symbiosis, at its centre, ‘counters the idea that evolution is inherently and solely competitive’, it is driven ‘by both cooperation and competition’. It is cooperation that Albrecht believes is a positive forward step in creating a strong connection with nature, which will create a deeper understanding of how humans are part of the natural world and to survive, a balance of interests must be struck.
As the current environmental crisis continues it is naïve and arrogant to believe we have the language, concepts and emotional maturity to explain, engage in discourse and emote what we are encountering. Albrecht introduces helpful new concepts and language in Earth Emotions, which I believe will begin many conversations about our relationship with nature and how to communicate emotions never before experienced.