Tuesday, 8 November 2011


We do not only live in the environment ... the environment also lives in us. 

If the 'environment' is defined as that which surrounds us, then we do not live within it.

'Symbionment': [Greek sumbiosis, companionship, from sumbioun, to live together, from sumbios, living together : sun-, syn- + bios, life; http://www.thefreedictionary.com/symbiosis] [Ment - a process or condition.]

Therefore, we are all in the symbionment, not the environment.

Symbionment: that condition where we all live together and where companionship between ourselves and other beings is the norm and the basis of the normative.

Our language has evolved on the assumption that we are not in the environment but separate from it. Its time to redirect our language to reflect the reality of our total immersion in nature and natural processes.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Marx and Engels and their relevance to the 'Occupy' movement.

Marx and Engels on the Sustainable Society

 Glenn Albrecht. July 1991, revised May 1992, revised for Blog November 2011.

[This essay is over 20 years old now. Never published, but maybe more relevant than ever?]

The now almost orthodox view of Marx and Engels concerning the relationship humans have to the natural environment is that they endorsed a strongly anthropocentric or human centered philosophy which gave humans a position of dominance over the rest of nature. Moreover, it is frequently argued that their anthropocentrism is supported by their 'materialism' and its association with a view of perpetual progress. The net result of these broad philosophical beliefs was to produce human beings and social orders that have a crude instrumental view of nature, a belief in the unlimited satisfaction of 'genuine' human needs and wants and the infinite growth of an attendant economic system that produces material goods in response to those needs and wants.

It would appear that the society which is the outcome of these beliefs, is the opposite of what is currently understood as a 'sustainable' society. A sustainable society would at a bare minimum accept that there are environmentally imposed limitations on human material progress and that humans must learn to live in harmony with natural structures and processes. For human life and societies to have continuity, human needs and wants must find their expression most fundamentally within ecologically defined constraints.

With respect to the human-nature relationship, the value system associated with Marx and Marxism is thought to be no different to the value system associated with industrial capitalism. Exactly the same outcome arises where the destruction of the environment is seen as the unfortunate but inevitable consequence of the 'development' of 'raw' nature to suit human needs and interests. The common factor in both Marxian inspired 'Socialist' economies and free-market 'Capitalist' economies is the belief that human progress is dependent on a commitment to the ongoing growth of industrial society.

The major differences in the political and economic structures that animate these quite different social orders are of no great consequence when it comes to assessing their respective records on destruction of the environment. The central command economy and the free-market economy have equally bad track records on protection of environmental quality because they share a value system that elevates human material progress and economic growth above all else.

That Marx and Engels were 'true believers' in the prevailing anti-nature value system is based on a reading of their major works where there appears to be ample evidence of their adherence to this paradigm. Major support for this reading comes from the view that Marx in particular viewed humanity as "possessing" nature as its "inorganic body", that nature must be "transformed" or "mastered" to satisfy human needs and that automated production and associated technology will be universally used to exploit nature while liberating humans in the process.

That Marx understood nature to be the "inorganic body" of humanity is not at all contentious. However, in the Early Writings Marx makes it clear that the message of this claim is not that humans 'own' or 'possess' nature as one might possess an automobile or a watch, but that humans interact in a vital way with the whole of nature in order to survive. Marx argues:

The life of the species in man as in animals is physical in that man, (like the animal) lives by inorganic nature... Man lives physically by these [plants, animals, minerals, air, light, etc.,] products of nature; they may appear in the form of food, heat, clothing, housing, etc. The universality of man appears in practice in the universality which makes the whole of nature his inorganic body: (1) as a direct means of life, and (2) as the matter, object and instrument of his life activity. Nature is the inorganic body of man, that is, nature insofar as it is not the human body. Man lives by nature. This means that nature is his body with which he must remain in perpetual process in order not to die. That the physical and spiritual life of man is tied up with nature is another way of saying that nature is linked to itself, for man is a part of nature.
(Marx, in Easton L. and Guddat K., eds [E&G] 1967:293) 

 Humans are, according to Marx, uniquely self-conscious animals and they creatively apply consciousness to their interactions with nature. Other animals, by contrast, interact with nature on the basis of the instinctive satisfaction of basic needs, however, their own transformations of inorganic nature (beehives, termite mounds, beaver dams etc.) are not the products of active design. Furthermore, most animals are limited in their interactions with nature to specific ecological settings, while humans can transcend such limits to use the entire earth as a 'home'. Humans are qualitatively different from other animals in that they can lead a universal life in conceptual and material terms. Marx comments:

The animal builds only according to the standard and need of the species to which it belongs while man knows how to produce according to the standard of any species and at all times knows how to apply an intrinsic standard to the object. Thus man creates according to the laws of beauty.
(Marx, E&G 1967:295)

Humans are productive in ways that go beyond the satisfaction of basic physical needs and through their productive work what is 'natural' for humans is the creative transformation of nature to suit their needs and interests. When humans exploit one another, particularly when the products of human labour are appropriated from its producer, the human becomes alienated from its own species potential. It is then, according to Marx, that the human becomes "inferior" to the animal since the human is alienated from "...his spiritual nature, his human essence, from his body and likewise from nature outside him." (Marx, E&G 1967:295).

It is clear from these remarks that Marx did not see nature as the creation of human consciousness, as would an Idealist or Constructionist, rather he sees nature as external and independent of 'mind'. Humans have through their naturally acquired intelligence the unique capacity to understand the 'laws of nature' as they affect all life forms. As a consequence of the workings of an intelligent and creative mind, humans recreate external nature as it appears to them, in a 'humanised' form. A Realist interpretation of Marx's ideas would be that there is an external nature and that humans, through the media of sensory experience and rational thought, attempt to know that externality. Although a part of nature themselves, humans will have a uniquely human perspective on the totality of nature. In that no other animal has the capacity to "reproduce the whole of nature" as a consequence of its productive capacities, humans in some significant sense, have ‘superior capabilities than other life forms.

Marx would certainly not have agreed with those contemporary environmental philosophers who see, as a result of our interconnectedness with nature, all living species on this planet as having equal standing. Yet, despite this major difference, Marx does share with many modern environmentalists, the idea that nature is an extension of the body of humans. Inspired more by spiritual than material extension of the self into nature, writers such as Alan Watts in the 1960s created mottos for modern thinkers such as "the world is your body" (in Nash 1990:151). Deep Ecologists such as Fox, Seed and Naess all agree that there is "...no firm ontological divide in the field of existence" (Fox, in Devall and Sessions 1985:66). Marx, in seeing material existence as involving continuity of the organic and the inorganic actually anticipated one of the foundational planks of a distinctively environmental philosophy.

Marx's organicism runs deeper than his recognition of the reciprocal relationships that exist between humans and the natural realm that sustains them. His Hegelian ancestry meant that the whole philosophical approach that is linked to the term "dialectic", is an expression of a more systematic organicist perspective. The background to understanding Marx's use of organic imagery is to know something of Hegel's Organic or Dialectical philosophy. Hegel, in what he termed the "Dialectic", tried to create a new type of philosophical reflection suitable for the explication of reality, which he saw as an organically unfolding process or development.

The model or metaphor most widely used by Hegel to convey to the reader just what this means is that of a natural organism, a plant, for example, and the way it grows or develops. In simple terms, a natural organism like a plant undergoes constant development from genesis to death. Such an organism displays both great unity, in that its 'parts' possess a common life, and great diversity, in that the 'parts', the bud, the blossom and the fruit, for example, display great structural variation.

In addition to this 'unity in diversity', an organism develops by a constant process of negation; the blossom replaces the fruit, the fruit replaces the blossom and the seed the fruit. All this change by 'contradictions' happens within the context of what amounts to an internal blueprint for all development from the outset. The seed, for example, contains internally all the 'instructions' it needs to grow into a tree, given a suitable environment. Hegel's dialectical or organic philosophy was designed to counter a mechanistic and atomistic view of reality which had become popular under the influence of the founding fathers of modern reductionist science.

Marx incorporated this Hegelian way of thinking into his own theory. His and Engels' views on organic life were also supplemented by Darwin's theory of evolution. Marx, utilising a review of Capital written in 1872, quotes from the review in a way that brings the Hegelian and Darwinian elements of his thinking together. The reviewer states of Marx's method:

In a word, economic life goes through an evolutionary history resembling that with which we are familiar in other domains of biology...the earlier economists misunderstood the nature of economic laws when they compared them with the laws of physics and chemistry... A profounder analysis of the phenomena has shown that social organisms differ from one another as fundamentally as do vegetable and animal organisms... the scientific value of such an investigation lies in the origin, existence, development, and death of a given social organism, and its replacement by another and higher one. Such, in fact, is the value of Marx's book.
(Marx, 1974[1867]:lviii-lix)

Marx makes the following comment immediately after the passage just quoted:

When the writer describes so aptly and (so far as my personal application of it goes) so generously, the method I have actually used, what else is he describing but the dialectic method?
Marx, 1974[1867]:lix)

Marx's analysis of the material basis of social organisation was to be a scientific application of the dialectical method to the history and contemporary reality of the way that humans interact with nature to produce their own means of subsistence. This required of Marx and Engels that they apply an organicist or dialectical way of thinking to all human action. As Marx himself put this idea in relation to his era, "... even the ruling classes are beginning to realise that contemporary society is not a solid crystal, but an organism capable of change and continually undergoing change" (Marx, 1974:li). Therefore, the epistemological stance of Marx was in support of organic or holistic ways of analysing parts, wholes and relationships. This too indicates that Marx and Engels thought in ways that anticipated the strong links that have been forged between the environmental movement and neo-organicist thought. In writers as divergent as Capra (1982), and Bookchin (1982), we can see the resurgence of philosophical organicism and its application to environmental matters.

The overwhelming emphasis in Marx's writings was to explicate and evaluate the structural implications of the Capitalist mode of production from the perspective of a dialectically inspired materialism. His major concerns centered on how capitalist economies develop over time and the exploitation that characterised relationships between classes in society. However, as we shall now see, Marx and Engels displayed a surprisingly 'modern' grasp of the impact of the Capitalist mode of production on both social and natural ecologies.

Capitalism, according to both Marx and Engels, is based fundamentally on the unsustainable exploitation of both the productive capacities of human labour and the natural capital provided by the environment. It is symptomatic of relationships based on increasing levels of exploitation that those who are being exploited can, after a certain point, no longer sustain themselves. Although credited mainly with the elaboration of the exploitation of human labour, Marx, writing in the middle of the nineteenth century, saw clearly the implications of both types of exploitation. In an important passage in Capital, Marx suggests the need for a law of social production that maintains human activity in balance with its support environment. He prophetically argues:

With the constantly increasing preponderance of urban population aggregated in the great centres, capitalist production increases, on the one hand, the mobility of society, while destroying, on the other, the interchange of material between man and the soil, that is to say the return to the soil of its constituents that are used by human beings in the form of food and clothing - a return which is the permanent natural essential for the maintenance of the fertility of the soil. Thus it simultaneously destroys the health of the urban labourer and the mental welfare of the rural worker. But, while thus destroying the natural and spontaneously developed system for the circulation of matter from the soil to human beings, and from human beings back to the soil, it necessitates the systematic restoration of such a circulation as a regulative law of social production, and its restoration in a form adequate to the full development of mankind.
(Marx, 1974:546-547, my emphasis)

The specific awareness of the systematic, reciprocal relationships that exist between human communities and their surrounding natural environments indicates that Marx had a very sophisticated ecological understanding of the human-nature relationship. His reference to a regulative law of social production that would maintain human activity in dynamic balance with nature is an idea that strongly anticipates the current demands for what is called "sustainable development". What is unsustainable about much current production is that it is predicated on a perpetual, one-way flow of raw materials and energy from nature to society. Such unidirectional, 'infinite growth' in a finite system based on cycles and flows is clearly not sustainable in the medium to long term.

For Marx, capitalist production is based upon a set of values that enables the "foundations of all wealth - the land and the workers" to be exploited and destroyed by productive processes and technology. This view is supported by Engels who saw the ecological implications of the selfishness, egocentricity and short-sightedness of capitalist values. In the Dialectics of Nature, Engels observes:

When an individual manufacturer or merchant sells a manufactured or purchased commodity with the usual profit he is satisfied, and does not care what becomes afterwards of the commodity and its purchases. The same thing applies to the natural effects of the same actions. What did it matter to the Spanish planters in Cuba, who burned down forests on the slopes of mountains and obtained from the ashes sufficient fertilizer for one generation of highly profitable coffee trees, what did it matter to them that the heavy tropical rainfall afterwards washed away the now unprotected upper stratum of soil, leaving only bare rock.
(Engels, in Parsons, 1977:182)

In his mature writings Marx was primarily concerned to show the connections between environmental degradation and a decline in human vitality and health. In Capital, Marx makes an observation linking environmental and human health, which as we shall see below, is being repeated with tragic consequences in the late twentieth century. He warns:

Quite apart from the menace of a steadily growing labour movement, a restriction of the hours of factory labour was dictated by a necessity akin to that which has bought guano to manure English fields. The same blind eagerness for plunder which had, in one case, exhausted the soil, had in the other, exhausted the vital energies of the nation. Periodical epidemics speak as loudly here as does the reduction of the standard of fitness for military service in Germany and France.
(Marx, 1974:239-40)

In the Grundrisse, (1977[1857-8]:604-608), Marx presents a systematic attack on Malthus for over-emphasising the role of natural scarcity in setting limitations on human population size. What Malthus failed to acknowledge was that to a very large extent, human population levels are tied to the 'specific conditions of production' that operate at a particular point and place in human history. Modern environmentalists, particularly some Deep Ecologists, have rather simplistically tended to see human overpopulation as a major cause of environmental problems and a substantial decrease in human numbers as the 'solution' to those problems.
As humans change the ways they produce their means of material existence they transcend previous limits to what could be produced. Marx would have reminded us that over history, the perceptions of what appeared to be natural limits to productive capacity have in fact been limits imposed only by the specific mode of production operating at that time. Thus, a hunting and gathering people would have limitations on the productive capacity of their home 'territory' set by the technologies they used and their ability to find food in a natural setting. Agricultural and industrial societies could use the same size 'territory' but have it be productive to a far greater extent and have it 'carry' a far more numerous population. The concept of over-population is certainly tied to the concept of the carrying capacity of the support environment, however, the carrying capacity is defined by both naturally imposed, absolute limits and socially imposed relative limits to productive capacity.

For Marx, it is a particular feature of Capitalist production that it converts food into a commodity, luxuries into 'necessities' and the labour of humans into surplus value or profit. It is these and other features of Capitalist society such as the need for perpetual unemployment that are the major causes of overpopulation. If overpopulation subsequently is implicated as a major contributing cause in environmental destruction, then its social genesis must be understood. Marx at least provided a theoretical framework for understanding how overpopulation emerges under capitalist values. Contemporary strands in environmental philosophy such as Deep Ecology show  great concern about overpopulation and carrying capacity, but they do not examine the social aspects of carrying capacity nor the specific features of Capitalism that contribute to overpopulation.

The thesis on carrying capacity and population forwarded by Marx is supported to a large extent by some contemporary writers on environmental issues. The Eco-anarchist, George Bradford, for example, has pointed out that Western Capitalist nations currently waste and deliberately dump enormous amounts of high quality food. He also argues that "...the present human population could be carried today if we did not put so much agricultural land into the production of such luxuries as coffee, tea, cocoa, sugar and beef cattle that mostly go to rich nations." (in Watson, 1990:20-27). Put simply, it is largely the system of food distribution that is a problem in the present context of global population numbers, not a problem of productive capacity in relation to population size.

It is well known that Marx and Engels said little about the possible social structure of a post-capitalist society. Readers of their works are given the impression that a Communist society will be one where the abolition of private property will see the end to the alienation of human beings from their potential as creative, productive animals. Capitalist society will self-destruct since humans begin to see their full potential as individuals and as a species but have it denied to them by a numerically small but powerful elite. This happens under Capitalism, as distinct from all previous modes of production, because there is a drive toward the universal development of the forces of production. Marx argues on this point:

Hence the highest development of productive power together with the greatest expansion of existing wealth will coincide with depreciation of capital, degradation of the labourer, and the most straitened exhaustion of his vital powers. These contradictions lead to explosions, cataclysms, crises... and finally to violent overthrow.
(Marx 1977:749)

Capitalism, is for Marx, a necessary stage in human productive history because it is the last major step in progress toward the universal development of human beings. One possible interpretation of this 'grand theory' is that in the communist utopia, the productive machinery of Capitalism continues as before a revolution, changing only in that technology and machinery is owned by the workers or the people, not the capitalists. Thus, critics of Marx suggest that the technological 'paradise' of communism will be, with respect to environmental destruction, not in any way different from the technocentric destructiveness of industrial Capitalism. This view finds stark verification when current evidence suggests that environmental degradation in what was the Eastern Bloc may be worse than anything to be found in the Capitalist West.

However, this thesis ignores much of what Marx actually had to say about labour and technology under the Capitalist mode of production. It is true that Marx saw technology as a kind of liberating force. In Capital when discussing the development of manufacturing industry, Marx, barely containing his moral outrage, states:

The cheapening of labour power by the sheer misuse of labour power of women and children, the sheer theft of all the normal conditions of life and labour, and the sheer brutality of overwork and nightwork, encounters, at long last, certain limits imposed by nature, limits which cannot be overstepped... When this point is finally reached (and it is not reached for a long time), the hour has struck for the introduction of machinery...
(Marx, 1974:506, my emphasis)

Modern eco-anarchist writers such as Bookchin see machinery, particularly high-tech automated production, as having an important place in their own visions of an ecological society. Bookchin has no time for those who, for supposedly 'environmental' reasons, wish to encourage the use of labour-intensive work. Like Marx, he sees that labour-saving technologies "...would free human beings from needless toil and give them unstructured time for their self-cultivation" (Bookchin 1989:196).

With the introduction of industrial technology in the form of machines, Marx still insists that not only is alienation occurring via the extraction of surplus value, alienation happens because the machines have been built and designed by humans working within the exploitative parameters of the capitalist mode of production. This is a primary reason why workers are mutilated in such horrific numbers in industrial 'accidents' and why workers are poisoned by the very substances that they use in production. In the chapter in Capital on 'The Working Day' the reader gets the indelible impression that the whole system of production under capitalist values is an abhorrent thing for Marx. He argues, in a passage typical of his mature writings:

Whereas simple cooperation leaves the individual's methods of work substantially unaltered; manufacture revolutionises these methods, and cuts at the root of individual labour power. It transforms the worker into a cripple, a monster, by forcing him to develop some highly specialised dexterity at the cost of a productive world of productive impulses and faculties - much as in Argentina they slaughter a whole beast simply in order to get its hide or its tallow (Marx,1974:381).

Under capitalist relations of production, according to Marx, "... machines can only arise in antithesis to living labour", under different relations of production, Marx argued that there would be "... a changed foundation of production, a new foundation first created by the process of history" (Marx, 1977:833). Clearly, Marx has in mind the idea that in his vision of the new society, new relations of production entail a new mode of production. Given what has been argued in the context of human and environmental health above, and in particular the idea of a regulative law of social production that embraces the idea of ecologically sustainable development, it is inconceivable that Marx's vision of the future society simply be the productive system of Capitalism minus the capitalists. What Marx might have had in mind with the idea of a changed foundation of production could easily be consistent with the ideas of 'tools for conviviality' proposed by Illich or the technology implied by Schumacher's 'technology with a human face' or the collection of environmentally sound technologies that are now labelled under the word "appropriate".

To condemn Marx and Engels for what happened in the Soviet Union is to ignore the fact that the changed relations of production under "communism" have not seen the introduction of a new mode of production. If anything, the East has simply appropriated the worst of the technologies of the West, often in outdated or secondhand forms. In this context, the opposition of living labour to the machine and technology reaches its global zenith.

It is little wonder then that the scenario documented by Marx in the first half of the C19 is now being repeated in the second half of the C20. In a recent report on eco-catastrophe in the Soviet Union, Hedlund shows how the relationship between environmental and human health is being made manifest:

Some of the toxic wastes concentrated in air, water and soils have inevitably found their way into human bodies. The consequences are easy to find. In the industrial city of Chelyabinsk, in the southern Urals, half of all the young men are reported to be unfit for any form of military service, while the remainder are assigned to light duties. Equally disturbing accounts may be heard from many other parts of the country (Hedlund,S. 1991:25).

No doubt Marx and Engels would not have approved of any government, be it central command or democratic, "socialist" or capitalist, that ignored lessons learnt more than 150 years ago about the vital relationship between environmental and human health. When Marx speculated about the future society he seemed content with a vision that made it "... possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, breed cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner, just as I like, without ever becoming a hunter, a fisherman, a herdsman or a critic." (Marx, 1967:425). Marx was able to conceptualise such things because he, like Engels, believed activities like fishing, hunting, farming and criticism are predicated on protecting and conserving the totality of nature that sustains body and spirit. The ideas of workers being more creative, autonomous and multi-skilled in the workplace and industry being acutely aware of its environmental responsibilities toward the total life cycle of materials and products are being touted as the contemporary trademarks of a 'clever' society. Such ideas are not all that new.  


Capra, F. (1982) The Turning Point, Fontana, London.

Devall, B. and Sessions, G. (1985) Deep Ecology, Gibbs Smith, Salt Lake City.

Bookchin, M. (1989) Remaking Society, Black Rose Books, Montreal.

Bookchin, M. (1982) The Ecology of Freedom, Cheshire Books, Palo Alto.

Dobson, A. (1990) Green Political Thought, Unwin Hyman, London.

Eckersley, R. "The Road to Ectopia? Socialism Vs Environmentalism", in The Ecologist, 1988, Vol. 18, Nos 4/5, pp. 142-147.

Easton, L, and Guddat, L. eds, (1967) Writings of the Young Marx on Philosophy and Society, Anchor Books, New York.

Engels, F. (1934) Herr Eugen Duhring's Revolution in Science, trans Burns, E., Co-operative Pub. Soc., Moscow.

Gorz, A. (1980) Ecology as Politics, South End Press, Boston.

Hedlund, S. "Red Dust" in The Weekend Australian, July 13-14 1991, pp. 25,27.

Marx, K. (1977[1857-8]) Grundrisse, trans M Nicolaus, Penguin, Harmondsworth.

Marx, K. (1974[1867]) Capital, Vol. 1, trans E & C Paul, Everymans, London.

Nash, R. The Rights of Nature, The Primervera Press, Leichhardt NSW.

Parsons, H. (1977) ed, Marx and Engels on Ecology, Greenwood Press, Westport, Connecticut.

Pepper, D. (1989) The Roots of Modern Environmentalism, Routledge, London.

Routley, V. "On Karl Marx as an Environmental Hero" in Environmental Ethics, Fall 1981, Vol. 3, pp. 237-244.

Tolman, C. "Karl Marx, Alienation, and the Mastery of Nature" in Environmental Ethics, Spring 1981, Vol. 3, No 1, pp. 63-74.

Watson, R. "George Bradford: How Deep is Deep Ecology? and Return of the Son of Deep Ecology", Review, in Environmental Ethics, Winter 1990, Vol. 12, No 4. pp 371-374.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Creating a language for our psychoterratic emotions and feelings

healthearth ... healthearthealthearthealthearth: Creating a language for our psychoterratic emotions and feelings

Creating a language for our psychoterratic emotions and feelings

I am developing a conceptual framework for understanding psychoterratic, or earth related (terra) mental health (psyche) states or conditions. I want to contribute to an expanded understanding of the changing relationship between the states of biophysical and built environments and human mental and physical health.

Despite the importance of connections between environmental or ecosystem health and human health (physical and mental) in many cultures, we have very few concepts in English that address environmentally-induced mental distress, or conversely, environmentally enhanced positive mental health. What I am attempting to do now is develop a rich psychoterratic typology that provides a language and conceptual landscape to match the rich range of emotions and feelings people have about nature and place.

The negative and positive concepts that are relevant to a fuller understanding of the human-environment relationship have been incorporated by me into a psychoterratic typology (below).

Table 1. A Typology of Psychoterratic States.

Negative States
Positive States
Hofer 1688
Albrecht 2010
Fromm 1965
Fromm 1965
Kellert & Wilson 1995
Wilson 1984
Sobel 1995
Sobel 1995
Albrecht 2005
Auden 1947,
 Tuan 1974
Global Dread
Albrecht  2003
Albrecht 2009
Nature Deficit Disorder
Louv 2005
Ecophilia and Eutierria
Albrecht 2010
Rees 2007, Albrecht 2008
Albrecht 2009
Leff 1990
Albrecht 2010

The typology of psychoterratic states is a transdisciplinary contribution to the complete reworking of our “eco-mental” landscapes (Bateson 1972). As work in development, this typology contains concepts developed over time in the international literature and new terms created by myself. In brief overview, the key elements of the typology include:

Nostalgia and Endemophilia

Nostalgia, as defined by Hofer (1688) was regarded as a medically diagnosable disease. In past centuries, because people were more strongly and permanently tied to place, the condition of nostalgia was more likely to be felt as a severe form of psychoterratic and somaterratic disorder (Lowenthal 1985). I have created the new term, endemophilia, to counter traditionally defined nostalgia. The English word, ‘endemic’, is based on the French word, endémique and has the Greek roots, endēmia (a dwelling in) and endēmos (native in the people) and philia (love of). Endemophilia describes the particular love of the locally and regionally distinctive in the people of that place. It is similar to what Relph (2008 (1976) ) called “existential insideness” or the deep, satisfying feeling of being truly at home with one’s place and culture.

Necrophilia, Biophobia and Biophilia

The Neo-Freudian, Erich Fromm, contributed to the psychoterratic typology by creating the binary opposites of necrophilia and biophilia. Necrophilia, or the love of death, is to be countered by the love of life (Fromm 1965). Fromm’s (1965, 1994) pioneering concept of biophilia links love of humanity with love of life and nature, in a nexus that anticipates many themes within environmental ethics. For E.O. Wilson (1984), biophobia describes an anathema to the natural world, and Wilson (1984) saw biophilia, or biological affiliation with all other organisms, as a counter to biophobia and destructive and exploitative relationships with nature.

Ecophobia and Ecophilia

Sobel (1995) and others use the term ecophobia to describe the fear or hatred of ecology or the environment, involving a denial of the value of biodiversity, the physicality of the earth and the processes that make life possible. To counter what Kahn has called “environmental generational amnesia” (Kahn 1999) we need to draw on every element of bio- and ecophilia left in humans to find educative solutions to environmental and climatic problems. As David Sobel argues: “We can cure the malaise of ecophobia with ecophilia” (Sobel 1995).
Solastalgia and Topophilia 

I have created the concept of solastalgia (Albrecht 2005, 2006, 2010), defined as emplaced or existential melancholia at the negatively perceived transformation (desolation) of a loved home environment. Solastalgia has its origins in the concepts of ‘solace’ and ‘desolation’. Solace is derived from solari and solacium, with meanings connected to the alleviation of distress or to the provision of comfort or consolation in the face of distressing events. Desolation has its origins in solus and desolare with meanings connected to abandonment and loneliness. Algia means pain, suffering or sickness.It is a form of ‘homesickness’ like that experienced with traditionally defined nostalgia, except that the victim has not left their home or home environment. 

The concept of solastalgia has had considerable international impact since its creation and has helped revive interest in the relationships between humans and place at all scales.In addition to application in new academic research, the concept of solastalgia, has, since its creation in 2003, steadily grown in its public use. An internet search on the term will produce many thousands of results in many languages and a brief scan of those results reveals that, apart from new applications in academic contexts, artists, composers and musicians, poets, playwrights and hundreds of ordinary people in blogs and websites have already started to use the term and apply it in meaningful ways. 

The concept of topophilia was first used by the poet W.H. Auden in 1947 to describe the attention given to the love of particular and peculiar places as manifest in the poetry of John Betjeman (Hauser 2007). The neologism combines topos (place) with philia or love, hence love of place. By contrast, the geographer Yi-Fu Tuan (1974) explicitly used the term to describe a love of landscape that included the non-built or natural environment as well as the built environment. If we accept that love of landscape and place can be a powerful emotion, especially for Indigenous people and people who live closely to the land/soil, then a lived experience of the chronic desolation of that landscape/place would be an equally powerful emotion and psychic state. It is this precise experience that solastalgia describes.

Global Dread, Soliphilia and Nature Deficit Disorder

Global dread is a psychoterratic condition centred on the anticipation of a future state of the world that produces a mixture of terror and sadness in the sufferer for those who will exist within such a state. I created the concept of soliphilia’ to provide a cultural and political concept that will help negate dread and solastalgia. The concept has its origins in the French solidaire (interdependent) and the Latin solidus (solid or whole) and the love of one’s fellow citizens and neighbours implied by the Greek (philia). Soliphilia is manifest in the interdependent solidarity and the wholeness or unity needed between people to overcome the alienation and disempowerment present in contemporary political decision-making. Soliphilia introduces the notion of political commitment to the saving of loved home environments at all scales, from the local to the global. While only in existence since 2009, this concept has already been discussed in a feature article that has global reach (Smith 2010). The concept of soliphilia also has affinities with ideas such as ‘eco-cosmopolitanism’ (Heise 2008) where rather than place pathology and dread being the inevitable consequence of modernity, a global sense of place can also be compatible with an endemic sense of place in an environment of high quality.

Richard Louv (2008) has created the term ‘nature deficit disorder’ and has warned about the negative impacts of withdrawal of our children and their socialisation from nature and natural processes. Louv and many others point out that the epidemics of physical (obesity) and mental health (ADD) in our children are closely related to the disconnection now well established between children and eco-socialisation. Without close physical contact with wild places and wild things, as Sobel also pointed out, the socialisation and education of children are incomplete. At this point, as Fromm argued, the development of the healthy personality is compromised.

Ecoparalysis, Ecoanxiety and Eutierria

Ecoparalysis appears as apathy, complacency or disengagement with reality as it unfolds, but the detachment people feel may well be psychoterratic rather than an active decision to do nothing. Lertzman, building on the work of the psychoanalyst, Searles, suggests that “[f]ar from being an absence of pathos, or feeling, inner feelings of anxiety, fear or powerlessness manifest as a lack of action or a paralysis” (Lertzman 2008). Rees highlights the structural aspects of the current human dilemma when he argues that while individuals “hold to the expansionist myth” of consuming and growing our way to sustainability, “society remains in eco-paralysis” (Rees 2008). Ecoanxiety, or non-specific worry about our relationship to support environments in the twenty-first century (Leff 1990, Dickinson 2008) is generated, on a daily basis, by the delivery of information and images about negative trends concerning the environment and the climate. I define eutierria as a good and positive feeling of oneness with the earth and its life forces. This feeling is one where the boundaries between self and the rest of nature are obliterated and a deep sense of peace and connectedness pervades consciousness. When the human-nature relationship is spontaneous and mutually enriching (symbiotic) we experience an emotional state of ‘eutierria’ in contrast, to ecoanxiety, ecoparalysis and global dread. Eutierria now exists as an alternative to what has previously been described within religious and spiritual writings as “that oceanic feeling.”

Thursday, 23 June 2011

The Emotions of Climate Change.

Forget the economics and the science ... it’s all about emotion. The science is absolutely clear ... we are responsible for global warming and climate change and the longer term consequences of failure to mitigate are too ghastly to think about. The economics are also in the realm of the bleeding obvious ... the cost of mitigation is nowhere near the cost of the damage that will be caused by destructive climate change that will smash agriculture worldwide and wreak more storm and tempest damage to our vital technology and infrastructure. 

So, what about the emotions? How can emotions explain the types of responses we see today? Given that the emotions are primary factors generating action or inaction in humans, (‘emotion’ is derived from the Latin ēmovēre to disturb, and movēre to move), it is most likely that they will be implicated in issues that invite action (or inaction) such as climate change.

Modern humans evolved within bioregional contexts only 200,000 years ago. In the last ten thousand years, the Earth’s climate has been relatively stable and cultures have sustained themselves around the predictability of the seasons and other solar system regularities such as the tides. Our perceptual and emotional development was tied to survival in often difficult environments where scarcity usually prevailed over abundance.

Survival in a time of scarcity was contingent on aggressively defending home territories from human rivals. Men, especially, in the context of a hunting and gathering economy, also required the emotional attributes required to hunt and kill animals that, in many instances, could kill or injure them. In addition, detailed knowledge of the home environment was vital and relationships to places and things of sustenance and the human cooperation needed to sustain family and clan must have been foundational to the emotions.

With internal place-based emotions mainly tied to cooperation within home territories and families and external place-based relationships mainly based on defence and aggression, at least two clearly opposed sets of emotions have become part of our biological and cultural evolution. Many authors (see, for example, Parrot 2001) have built complex typologies of the emotions, however, in this short essay I wish only to highlight the contrast between emotions affiliated with cooperation (love, care, joy) and conflict (anger, hostility, fear).

In the last two hundred years (especially) humans in Capitalist, industrialised and technologically complex societies have created a social and cultural environment based not on scarcity but abundance. In such circumstances, the emotional typology produced in the previous 200,000 years becomes confused. The ‘external’ emotions connected to competition are harnessed to maximise corporate growth and dominance in a global market place while the ‘internal’ more cooperative emotions are increasingly tied to making the corporate body more efficient and productive.

Particular place-based emotions have been transcended by more global connections and increased alienation from the natural systems that once sustained us. In addition to artificial habitats supported by technologies that deliver virtual experiences (of people and place) we have built a globally connected economy that has removed the threat posed by outsiders and ‘others’ to only a few (but occasionally effective) terrorists and cultures that refuse to be part of the global ‘corporate family’. Now, it is mainly those who pose a threat from the inside to the institutions that deliver the abundance that all enjoy,who are perceived to be ‘outsiders’ and a threat to the integrity of the whole system.

In the C20, it was ‘the Left’ that held the place of 'outsider' and opponent of market-based modern societies where the ‘Cold War’ for right libertarians was (and still is) all about victory of free markets, individual freedom and Western institutions (democracy) over communist/socialist forms of social organisation based on collectivism and authoritarianism.

In the C21, in the new ‘Green War’, the enemy has now become those who suggest that there are limits to material growth in any aspect of human life. Given that the ultimate basis of Capitalism is infinite growth, such advocacy of limits is seen as threatening the very basis of the material abundance that has come to characterise a modern society.

The emotional choreography of hunting and gathering societies is revealed when those who argue for unlimited freedom and unlimited growth use ‘outsider’ emotions to defend their position. Their emotional landscape is based on hostility to the ‘other’, and aggression towards opposing views and people that espouse them. These people are fighting a ‘Green War’ because ‘greens’ represent that which is most anathema to them ... the restriction of individual freedom in the interests of any collective good. Even rationality and science, if used to support forms of limitation, including limits to greenhouses gases in the atmosphere, become enemies of the so-called free and open society.

It is then quite explicable to see the expression of emotions in the hostility and ad hominen attacks on climate scientists and environmentalists made by climate change denialists, anti- limits-to-growthers and green sceptics. Their total world view is being challenged by climate and environmental science and in order to preserve their own coherence, they must oppose every piece of evidence that suggests the need to change and respect limits. If this now means opposing the very scientific traditions on which their own abundant world was erected, then so be it.

By contrast, the climate scientists and environmentalists who see the need for restraint and self limitation are able to use the insider emotional choreography of the hunters and gatherers to establish and reinforce their own position. They can clearly see that humans have re-entered a world of scarcity and that there is a need to give expression to relictual communal emotions of care, responsibility and collective good that enable sustainability within the imposed limits. That they have to confront those who oppose them and who do so via the opposing emotions of hostility and aggression only makes for the drama of the emotions to be played out in the most difficult of circumstances.

What is strange is that we have not paid sufficient attention to the emotions of climate change and environmentalism. As with the emotions of denial of the harm of cigarette smoking, centred on personal freedom, addiction and lifestyle, the similar emotions of climate change denial are powerful enough for people to oppose science, be blind to evidence and be thoughtless about how others now (intragenerational ethics) and others in the future (intergenerational ethics) can sustain themselves.

It must also be noted that the drama of the emotions is also substantially being played out within the context of a privately owned media that has a vested interest in profit-making by selling the trappings of an infinite growth model of an economy. Be it in the service of new motor vehicle images or big glossy advertisements for new mining employees, the commercial media must employ journalists who are able to give expression to the emotions of infinite growth insiders and oppose them to the emotions of limits to growth outsiders. That they do so to protect the interests of those who profit from infinite growth models of economic activity should come as no surprise to anyone. In doing their job they also ensure that they themselves continue to have one.
If, after receipt of information about the real threats to life, we oppose untrammelled human development and are concerned about the fate of future generations, then our emotions are primed to urgently mitigate the causes of climate change. If we want to accept climate change but continue with business as usual, then we are emotionally disposed to support adaption to any change. If we are emotionally tied to a world view (ideology) that cannot co-exist with limitations to individual and corporate freedom, then we will oppose any action that will constrain economic growth including 'costly' adaptation to climate change.

Thursday, 19 May 2011


Many are now suggesting that we should rename this period on earth as the Anthropocene.

This era could be called the Obscene, not the Anthropocene.

I for one, a human, do not wish to be associated with a period in Earth's history where the dominant people in one species, wipe out the foundations of life for all other humans and non-humans.

I wish to be part of the 'Symbiocene' where humans live in harmony with all other beings.

We can do this via eco- and biomimicry and ecoindustrial economies.

Its going to be hard, but it is at least thermodynamically possible. It may even be ethical and beautiful.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Black Swan Event and Deadly Brain Virus

The Perth newspaper, The West Australian today. Two articles next each other.

One on Black Swans falling sick because of the drought and hotter weather and the other about a deadly virus, Murray Valley encephalitis, which is carried by mosquitoes, now found close to Perth (http://au.news.yahoo.com/thewest/a/-/newshome/9453199/mosquito-virus-spreads-across-wa/).

In the Black Swan story, the language is all about a "dry spell" with no mention of climate change or global warming and its impacts on SW WA. The swans are sick from botulism and other water borne diseases. Another possible cause is exhaustion as they come to the coast to escape the drought further inland. 

The "deadly brain virus" story says that the virus warning now extends to anywhere north and east of Perth". However, there is no mention of the changing climate and how it favours the spread of the mosquito and hence, the virus.

Like the dying trees, sick swans are an indicator of ecosystems in distress, while the spread of infectious diseases, particularly by mosquitoes, as climates get warmer has been predicted by the IPCC and other research on global warming.

Climate change is not only real, it is here in Perth and is having major impacts right now. Its a pity our one daily newpaper cannot see and make the connections.

Friday, 29 April 2011

Ethical Dieback

Ethical Dieback.

While gamers and sports fans might like slow motion action scenes where you can watch every move in minute detail, I doubt if anybody would like to watch the slow motion disaster that is unfolding before our very eyes in the Perth region. 

I live in the hills at Jarrahdale and well into April I am watching whole sections of the forest slowly die. It is not just Jarrah and Marri that are turning yellow and dying, the whole ecosystem is in deep distress, so much so that, tragically, it looks like a Northern Hemisphere autumn is taking place right here, right now.

If we could watch what is going on in fast forward we would see vast tracts of bushland dying of thirst in the grip of this permanent drought. If you take the time to look, you will notice that the native ecosystems on the coastal plain are also in the deep distress of various forms of ‘dieback’. What is happening is a 'tipping point' in the process of 'tipping' ... a rare but hugely important event.

The Perth Region, including the Hills, has had a 20% decline in rainfall over the last 30 years and a much larger, 60% decline in runoff into the streams and our dams. Gooralong Brook, once a year-round running stream, has disappeared and most of its deeper pools are now bone dry. The climate of the SW of WA has already changed for the worse and if it gets even warmer and dryer, the Perth region will be in perpetual ecosystem distress. 

This distress is not only about trees, frogs, jilgies and thirsty kangaroos; it is also a crisis of the human spirit and the mind. Our identity as people of the Perth region is at stake. All that is endemic to this special part of the world is at risk of slow death by desiccation. Our iconic trees such as Banksia and Jarrah are already dying and the wildflowers, the exquisite ground orchids and kangaroo paws, will not reappear in a dry, colourless Spring.

Even the bikies that roar their Harleys up the Jarrahdale Road, heading for the hills, are part of endemic Perth, for although they might find it hard to admit, they love the beautiful bush vistas and the stress release that green, open spaces invite. That you can enjoy the roos, the jarrah forest and a thirst-quenching beer at the Jarrahdale Tavern is a quintessentially West Australian freedom. But it is a freedom, like the water in Serpentine Dam, which is in danger of disappearing. 
We are a people in denial about the huge, negative changes to our climate and landscape that have taken place during my lifetime (I am a baby boomer). Since 1975, in SW WA, we have experienced most of the driest years on record. Last year (2010) was the driest year for the SW since 1900 and we are now breaking records for night and day time heat. The summer of 2010 -11 had the highest average minimum and maximum temperatures on record. Our dams are right now at less than a quarter of their total capacity and the chance of record rains that would return them to the spectacular overflows I witnessed as a child seems a very remote possibility. 

We, in Perth, are in the front line of human induced global warming and its negative impacts and unless we confront that reality, our environment will either wither or simply pack up and move away from us. Sure, at huge expense, we can produce potable water from the sea and pump more ground water to keep Perth ‘green’, but these ‘solutions’ are a sign that we have got our relationship to the earth completely wrong. Go and have a good look at the (former) Lake Gnangara and think about the trade-off between ecosystem health and green lawns.

We are now living in a time of solastalgia, the homesickness you have when you are still at home. We have a lived experience of an environment that is changing all around us in ways that are distressing. Some people still think there is not a problem, that the problem is not serious, that we are not responsible for the problem, that we should do nothing ... but these responses are a sign of deep denial and ethical dieback.
Gooralong Creek with riparian vegetation dead and dying April 2011