Anne Hofstra

Solastalgia: Ecoparalysis

My grandmother's philosophy group meets once a week. Over apple pie and coffee, they discuss great thinkers, themselves, and the news. Occasionally I join in and help my grandmother serve the coffee: her hands, at ninety years old, are not very suited to such detailed work as pouring hot liquid substances. The group exists of the children of the sixties and seventies. Raised with the sexual revolution, manifestos and demonstrations. A generation that, I noticed, doesn't have a whole lot of respect for my own generation: the millenial.

As soon as I tried to lay out my analyses of climate change and the political gridlocks that come with it next to the apple pie on the table, there is laughter and slapping on the table. So do something. We just took to the streets. We threw bricks through windows. We streaked. You just look at your iphones and wait for something to happen. And then whine a little bit. But you are a completely apathetic generation!
Yes, maybe you are. But in all honesty: I have no idea what to do, I don't know where to start, I don't know what works, I can try to understand the system and even in the extremely simplified version I can imagine of that system we seem to be in a situation where we can't possibly get out.
Completely paralyzed, I try to defend my generation to the group of older people at the table. My generation is constantly concerned with climate change. My generation is extremely politically engaged.
The woman to my left interrupts me: well I don't see it!
The good news is: that depends on where you look. There are more and more demonstrations, and even without demonstrations there are other ways of trying to make a difference. But they do have a point: we seem so apathetic.
Psycho-analyst Renee Lertzman examined the relationship between engagement and apparent apathy and found that people's apathy toward the climate does not come from nonchalance. He saw that many people actually care so much about the climate problem that they fall back on psychological defense mechanisms: in this case, paralysis. Australian scientist Glenn Albrecht calls this state ecoparalysis. People want to do the right thing but are paralyzed by the weight of the issue. This is probably because the climate issue is an extistential crisis par excellence. Our way of life, our environment and the survival of humans as a species are at stake. Such complex issues are difficult for humans to deal with and therefore cause a relapse to various coping mechanisms. Ecoparalysis is one example, but climate denial, which I will talk about more extensively later, also belongs in this list.
In any case, we can agree that these mechanisms, though widespread, are not very productive.
Yet it is also hopeful: it may seem that we do not care, but we certainly do. There is nothing wrong with our commitment: we are just in the process of finding a productive way to deal with the climate issue.