Solastalgia, from a distance


In our most recent video call my parents’ suburb was full of smoke. Firefighters were burning off dry debris to prevent it from becoming fuel for late summer lightening fires.

When I grew up in Tasmania, we would stay by our home when the flames approached, dousing the house with water. I remember firefighters dragging huge hoses into our garden, the car packed to the brim including a cat stuffed in a box (with holes), our skin and throats scratchy from the woolen sweaters and the heat and the smoke. But guidelines have changed; too many lives lost; humans, animals, trees and microbes.

My awareness of this loss is mostly virtual. It’s been almost three years since my husband and I have been back and seen our families. Years since I have listened to the glorious bird orchestra in my parents’ backyard over a morning coffee. As the logistics and possibilities of travelling to Australia get more complicated, I have started consuming more Tasmanian stories - novels, documentaries, whatever I can get my hands on.

In amongst the tales of endangered spotted quolls and orange-bellied parrots, I am increasingly coming across the same term, one that I hadn’t heard before: solastalgia. Solastagia is the emotion induced by the loss of everything that comes with the climate emergency. It’s the deep sadness of disappearing bandicoots and bettongs, persistent droughts and lightening wildfires.

I wonder if it is possible to experience solastalgia at a distance, even if I don’t know what I am missing? As I spend ever more time observing the ecosystems of our local neighbourhood, in lockdown, I feel simultaneously a greater appreciation of our new discoveries, for the strange curly seed pods that dangle in trees and the soft moss between ancient pavement stones. Before this changes, too.

Anna Harris, associate professor department of Society Studies; Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

Solastalgia, from a distance
Anna Harris