When Glenn Albrecht advocates that humans live in symbiosis with nature, he is shaking the foundation of a scriptural vision of the scale of beings, which has prevailed for long
By Nita Chicooree-Mercier
Undoubtedly, threats to the very survival of humans posed by a pandemic make a re-assessment of production, consumption and environment-friendly policies a matter of emergency.
A new way of seeing human relation to the environment is indicative of a significant change which goes beyond materialistic and economic concerns.
Globalisation in quarantine for almost four months does not spell the end of international trade and exchanges. It connects the world in a number of ways and cannot backpedal to an unrealistic policy of isolationism of any country. However, all countries are left with little choice other than re-evaluate their needs and reduce dependence on importation to boost local production and job creation. The well-entrenched idea that all roads lead to a global workshop is losing ground.
The Secret Life of Trees: The Astonishing Science of What Trees Feel and How They Communicate. Photo – 2.wp.com/www.brainpickings.org
There is a rising awareness of the use of cleaner energy to reduce carbon footprint and handle environmental damages more effectively. Ecologist parties have not been taken very seriously up to now, but as France goes green in recent municipal elections, for instance, a thumb-up signal is being given to green parties.
Alternative solutions to petrol have been under way for years and are a key priority for all importer countries to reduce dependence on oil-producing countries. In the long run it will diminish the flow of petro-dollars to oil-rich countries, lead them to eke out a living by their own efforts to diversify their economy, impact the clout they boast of in the eyes of those who look up to them, and change the rules at the negotiating table of geopolitics.
New words defining old emotions
What looks like a new phenomenon in the relation of humans and the environment has existed since times immemorial. Centuries and millennia ago, victims of natural disasters, invasions, wars and brutal development and adjustment of neighbourhood felt the nostalgia for the earth and lands that existed before. It is a feeling the victims knew very well. Today the destruction of the ecosystem and environment chaos that unfolds at planetary level reinforce the feeling of nostalgia.
Glenn Albrecht, an Australian thinker finds new words to define ‘green’ emotions. ‘Existential’ experience of a negative change in the environment, felt like an aggression on our feeling of belonging to a place is called ‘solastalgia’. His book ‘The Emotions of the Earth’ defines the particular nostalgia for the land that was, before the devastation caused by the presence of humans. He is a creative thinker who feels the need for neologism, appropriate words to depict a worrisome unique era of climate change when human activities impact the ecosystem in an unprecedented way. The havoc caused by an open air exploitation of a coal mine in his native land in New South Wales prompted him to find an adequate vocabulary for what he felt. A wider set of such emotions comes under the baroque term ‘psychoterratic’.
Artists contribute to integrate the feeling of ‘solastalgia’ in popular culture. Writers and climate experts use the terms in debates at international level. Trauma and love for the earth are defined as ‘tierratrauma’ and ‘tierraphilia’. In this light the solution to ‘solastalgia’ is presented as ‘soliphilia’, ‘a political commitment to safeguard beloved places’, locally and globally.
Unity of All that is Living
Such a concept coming from someone with a western cultural background may sound innovative only to westerners. The writer bases his observation partly on recent scientific discoveries according to which the interaction of billions of bacteria impacts on the preservation of the human organism, and also on Aboriginal culture in which men are part of nature. It has always been common knowledge to native Indian tribes in America, Mexico and all Central America and to Africans. Millennia ago Hindus in India weaved the concept of ‘One in All and All in One’, a scientific fact into a rich philosophy illustrated by its mythology. The idea that men should predominate over all beings, nature and animals and use them at their will is influenced by Abrahamic religions, in scriptural beliefs embodied, first, in the Old Testament, and made its way in the other traditions in the desert regions. It was probably influenced by harsh climate conditions in the areas.
So when Glenn Albrecht advocates that humans live in symbiosis with nature, he is shaking the foundation of a scriptural vision of the scale of beings, which has prevailed for long. But it is nothing new to other philosophical views.
Life of Plants
Traditionally, we apologize for picking up vegetables, leaves of lemon grass or cotomili (coriander) at six pm. We did it in our childhood, and still do today. The belief is that plants go to sleep at dusk, and we disturb their sleep when we pluck a twig or leaves from them; so we have to say ‘sorry’. We also say a prayer before cutting down a tree because we are aware that trees have a life, they are living entities in our environment.
‘The Secret Life of Trees’ a book written by a German author in 2015 depicts how trees communicate among themselves and send messages to one another. They warn about imminent danger of being eaten by animals, and also colonize and destroy other plants. In an era of frenzied activities centred on the well-being of humans and receding natural landscapes, the book created quite a stir in Europe. It opened windows on a reality that was hitherto alien to westerners and jolted those who have given a back seat to ancestral knowledge due to modern influences into a new awareness of other realities. As regards like-minded ‘new’ findings and stances, it all boils down to existing knowledge delivered in new packages. Nothing new under the sun, indeed.
* Published in print edition on 7 July 2020