Solastalgia: The Psychological Impact of Environmental Change


Leah Prussia, College of St. Scholastica.

Earlier this month, I attended the St. Louis River Summit. This science conference about the largest river that empties into Lake Superior (on the U.S. side) has gradually been incorporating more presentations that aren’t as “sciencey” as usual.

One of them caught my interest. Presented by Leah Prussia with the College of St. Scholastica, it was called “Solstalgia: An Intersection of Shared Knowledge.”

“What is solastalgia?” you may ask. Solastalgia is an English term for the mental or emotional distress that people feel from harmful environmental changes. It’s made up of “solace” and “nostalgia.” People feeling solastalgia no longer receive solace from their environment. Due to changes, they feel nostalgia for the way the place used to be. It’s a relatively new word, coined in 2003.

The changes can be from environmental catastrophes, such as volcanoes or floods, or from human-made changes like development or climate change.


St. Scholastica students gathering stories about people’s experiences with solastalgia.

Prussia, a social work professor, had her students at the Summit to collect people’s stories during lunch. I told them the story of a grove of trees near my home where I used to play with other neighborhood kids. I was devastated when the grove was cleared for a new house.

I remember complaining to the neighbor boy about it while we were on the swing set in my back yard. He said I’d get over it. That was almost fifty years ago!

I’m obviously still not over it if I can remember the pain I felt at the change. Have you ever felt solastalgia?


5 thoughts on “Solastalgia: The Psychological Impact of Environmental Change

  1. I feel solastalgia for Hapuna Beach on Hawaii Island. Although it is often ranked one of the top beaches in the world, growing up it was even better. An easy to reach beach yet quiet & amazingly uncrowded. Now, a big resort has been built on land immediately adjacent to the beach park. The vibe has been ruined.

  2. I’m feeling solastalgia every day on every project we are working on in the river corridor. The new Spirit Landing is the main one where the City will develop a launch and bring another road complete with blacktop parking down to Tallas Island Bay aka Kayak Bay. This will forever change this quite micro estuary along the Western Waterfront Trail. You can paddle and hike there and enjoy the wild life up close. It’s one of those spaces where you can just kick back and watch the birds, wind, water, and trees with little disturbance.
    The DWP trail along the hillside will now be developed for the most user groups trail in the area, horses, mountain bikers to complete their Duluth Traverse, regular bikers, hikers, walkers. Only good part is no new motorized use allowed. In the winter GOGGS may even groom it taking away our favorite place to snowshoe and backcountry ski in fresh snow. This is the trail I would go to get away from the bikes and snowmobiles on the Munger Trail. It offers a rail grade so those that can no longer do Superior Hiking Trail or other challenging trails a place to get away. It offered a sense of discovery every time I go there. Watching nature take back the area from the rail bed.
    The opposite of solastalgia (you might say) is about to happen with the City of Duluth working overtime to convince others that the Western Waterfront Trail can only be extended at the experience of the Lake Superior & Mississippi Railroad, the most scenic train excursion in the region and the one provides access to the estuary for folks that others would not or cannot hike, bike or paddle the area. The causeway has changed the river a bit but it has also done some good things as well.
    Some of the AOC and restoration projects in the Great Lakes region has had some unintended consequences and collateral damage. I count the LSMR and what it has been doing for the past 38 years as one of those. SO yes I feel solastalgia in many ways.
    Wish I could have made the summit this year. It is a great chance to learn and meet folks that care about all that the river has brought us.

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