Feeling like a stranger in a familiar land


News media stories warn us there are between three and twelve years to save the planet from the catastrophic effects of climate change. There are madmen in charge of nuclear triggers. Soon there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. All the beautiful animals and forests in the world are on a countdown to extinction. Trump couldn’t care less for nature. Borneo and the Congo are in the path of a thousand cuts to support western consumption; the new Brazilian President sees the Amazon as a resource not a refuge. China has allowed the trade of rhino horn and tiger parts. South Africa wants to resume the ‘cull’ of elephants in National Parks. There are more children in an average Auckland class room than there are Maui dolphins. There are too many people and not enough space. Our demand for animal protein is warming the planet, polluting waterways, causing animals to suffer and making us fat. Even vegetarian options are unsustainable if we want to equitably feed the world. And there’s no way consumers and governments are prepared to commit to the changes needed to save us.

No wonder I and many of us, are suffering from ecological grief. There are other names for it – eco-anxiety, pre-traumatic stress disorder and solastalgia. Environmental induced stress can be related to either acute environmental issues and events, or longer term and chronic changes. It can be caused by the experience of environmental events like floods or fires, or from longer term changes anticipated or underway.

Solastalgia was coined by a Professor of Sustainability at Western Australia’s Murdoch University, an alternative condition to nostalgia. Whereas nostalgia is a melancholy or homesickness for a place we’re separated from, solastalgia is distress from environmental change impacting when we’re still connected to home. Solastalgia has been studied in Australian farmers suffering from drought, in communities excavated for coal mines, and in Aborigines who have lost links with their lands. It’s felt by people of the sea ice, when the sea ice melts and is no more. It’s felt when we lose landscapes, ecosystems and species, the loss of places of collective and personal meaning, the elements of nature that help define our very selves. It’s a sense of loss and disassociation from places we love, ‘becoming a stranger in a familiar land’, where our old certainties become vulnerable and transient, change occurs before our eyes and we are powerless to control it.

I feel it when I see clay pits for terraced housing where once horses ran in paddocks here on the outskirts of West Auckland, and when I’m stuck in traffic while the adjacent railway line sits empty. I feel it for being locked out of the Waitakere Ranges because of kauri dieback disease, and I will feel it when there are no kauri. I feel it when I think of Maui and Hector’s dolphins, and I feel it when I know they will soon be gone. I feel it when Auckland Transport erects yet another unnecessary streetlight blocking out a bit more of the dark night sky, another ‘perishable good’ eroded in pursuit of ‘progress’.

But with ecological grief, I think I’m suffering from political grief as well. And there seems to be a bit of that on the left of the spectrum too. Those of us who campaigned for a change from the National Government and had our hopes pinned on a ‘progressive Labour-Greens government’ find ourselves drinking old wine in new bottles feeling less hope than a year before. Politics is the art of the possible, and the last twelve months has shown us the limits to hope, the limits of politics, and the strength of inertia and the status quo. We’re feeling grief and sadness that the Greens have settled for the ‘baubles of power’ – cabinet positions that do them and us more harm than good. Note the flak aimed at Eugenie Sage in her invidious role as Ministers of both Land Information and Conservation, where these roles are contradictory and conflict with previous Green policy. -Giving the green light in the first steps for water bottling export plants and huge landfills; and the alienation of high country land; The apparent powerlessness as conservation decisions are made by the Minister of Fisheries (and Shane Jones?).

This week I read a facebook post by Cantabrian artist and author Sam Mahon. Sam eloquently penned an open letter to Eugenie, grieving with a clear sense of betrayal about water bottling, the loss of water quality in the region, the loss of democracy, the loss of integrity in the Greens as they try to straddle both Government and their previous opposition to what they now support.

Note also the Government’s money for military hardware but not for teachers, despite the much-touted politics of kindness. Note the betrayal of animal welfare promises – an end to rodeo, cameras on fishing vessels. See privatisation of public land, and anyone remember the opposition to the TPP?

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Remember when Jacinda said she was a pragmatic idealist? In Sam’s letter to Eugenie, he has an answer for that. He quotes, ‘when the law is subject to pragmatism then the firm foundations on which we set our society turn to sand’ and that ‘pragmatism and compromise are corrosive elements that most threaten the architecture of democracy’. Elsewhere online, pragmatism, it is said, ‘reflects with almost disarming candour, the spirit of the prevailing business culture’, (Max Horkheimer); ‘Pragmatism contains nothing but sophistry and illusion’, (David Hume); ‘It is the attitude of looking away from first things, principles, ‘categories’, supposed necessities, and of looking toward last things, fruits, consequences and facts’ (William James). Idealism and pragmatism are almost incompatible.

Whether it’s the Greens in Government, or Jacinda’s pragmatic idealism, our politicians are manifest oxymorons. Despite our hope and best wishes for a Labour-Green coalition, this political landscape is not the world we thought we knew. We’re strangers in a familiar land, or maybe we’re familiar, but the world is a strange one. The grief and disappointment despite the nicey nice hopeful and kindness stuff, (and some genuine wins), is real.

Eco-psychologists advise people to accept their powerlessness, to take breaks from computers and phones, to meditate, spend time in the garden, take support from family and friends. I’m trying to manage my fb feed (diet), and spend more time in the garden, on my bike and in my kayak. I’m trying to stay committed to the greater environmental and social cause. ‘To know that even one life has breathed easier, this is to have succeeded’, said the poet Emerson. And I take heart and faith from that.

Facing the hard truth about environmental apocalypse, dealing with environmental grief – and its source in political grief, takes ‘a steady courage, and a certain amount of grit’, to avoid becoming fatalistic, nihilistic, and falling into total despair. Psychologists say to cope with eco-anxiety, sadness, grief and loss, we should acknowledge the problem, feel it, and commit to do better. I really wish the Greens, our Government, and leaders of the world, would own that too.


  1. Thank you Christine
    You’ve spoken for a huge number of us who watch on in despair and helplessness and impotent disbelief.
    Its like living in the Lars Von Trier film ” Melancholia” or some ridiculous satire.
    For me, observing whats happened to Julian Assange is also part of it
    Reveal the tawdry truth of how the “world” works and you’ll be systematically crucified, with your previous colleagues and allies buying in to and joining the carnage.

  2. The famous ‘new deal’ in the US that occurred in the 30s came about because vast masses of the population joined the Labour movement and were then able to threaten to bring down the capatalist system. WW1 came to an end because Labour movements made it happen. Social Security started in NZ because the political arm of the Labour movement implemented it.

    We don’t have to form an exact replica (and the word Labour has been sullied) but we do have to form a movement made up of ordinary people if we want this to change.

    When normal people come together we are so powerful that nothing can stop us. The ‘new deal’ came about because the Labour movement made the super rich give lots of their own money for government programs that lifted people out of poverty. The rich did it under threat of a wholesale revolution and they will do it again if we decide to make them.

    In the UK recently

    • ‘Normal people’ are too fixated to their Facebook and other social media accounts and friends networks, sending frivolous little messages and pics to each other, hence distracting themselves almost 24/7 from reality. The internet and what has come with it in the form of the IT revolution has turned out to be a beast that poses greater threats than benefits to us.

      Few use it to inform themselves and to take real action, I sadly see no change on the horizon to the mass brainwashing and conditioning, and endless dumbing down, and distraction.

    • The ‘new deal’ came about because the Labour movement made the super rich give lots of their own money for government programs that lifted people out of poverty.

      This is holding to the delusion that we need the rich to pay for things. We don’t.

      The nation already owns all the resources in the country. This means that the country can simply pay the citizens to extract and utilise those resources in any way it deems necessary.

      No rich people or private ownership needed and that really is what the lies of the private sector are all about. Why they go on that money cannot simply be created despite the fact that the private simply create money. Their lies are there to hide the fact that we don’t need rich people.

      If the government simply created the money and spent it into the economy in productive ways the economy would run better and we wouldn’t have rich people.

      • You’re quite right that we don’t need the rich to pay for things but the point of my comment is that the normal people can take caharge if we work together. The exact solution is incidental at this point because if we don’t come together first then nothing will happen.

        You’ve got to admit though, the idea of forcing the rich to hand over billions of dollars has a certain appeal 🙂

        • You’ve got to admit though, the idea of forcing the rich to hand over billions of dollars has a certain appeal

          To some degree but I happen to like the idea of leaving them with billions of dollars that they can’t use to make even more unearned income. Make it so that any money they have just sits in the bank. They either spend it or see it go down at the rate of inflation.

          • Relying on rich puts them into control even more.

            Predators seldom conserve their prey.

            Progressive taxation is the best way we have at present to fund what is needed for change.

            • Actually, the best way to fund the change is to simply have the government create the money and spend it into the economy. This utilizes the nations resources for the benefit of the nation and removes the power of the rich.

              The government doesn’t actually need funding.

  3. In terms of moving forward, if Labour and Greens were 50% of the vote then more would be possible in local governance.

    It requires a plan of action and a role for communiy and or such a government in achieving it.

    Worldwide, it requires a plan of action ….

  4. I can identify with what you’re writing @ CR.
    I felt similarly when I watched my mum let the news of her stage four, or is that five, or ten, or what ever the number, sink in.
    The news seeped into her ears and spread through her being like a toxin. Like paraquat. She was, there and then, doomed. She lived for a year and died the day before her birthday in the house I bought for her and my father after they got swindled into an un payable interest debt after the Timaru bnz’s manager at the time used an alledged in-bank ‘mistake’ to set my parents up on an unstoppable decline to ruin. And there was no explanation of the withdrawals and re deposits shown on bank statements generated internally against that ‘mistake’. But were never posted. The account action was certainly not that of my father’s, mother’s or myself. The bnz just sat back and invited us to spend thousands of dollars on litigation which was deflected off into outer space by the $-dollar might the bnz possessed at that time. I had to watch that happen. I was young, ignorant and dismayed by the outlandish cynicism projected at me and my family by the bnz but also by MP’s and sundry other officials toward a couple of old cockies making a fuss and their, to them, eccentric son. winston peters was one of them.
    The dysfunction that our banking system is, is reflected in the mental illness that’s prevalent within our society. Narcissism, egotism, sociopathy, greed and a misplaced sense of entitlement pervades our upper levels of commerce and politics and when the last Maui Dolphin dies it’s blood’s on their hands, as is my mother’s and father’s and, in time to come, mine too.
    New Zealand/Aotearoa IS a paradise but it could have been so much more for the want of good intentions and creatively managed by the people who clawed their way into the rich and fertile hunting grounds that is our parliament. They, instead, betrayed us in our naivety then took our time and money away and now they destroy our environment.
    [It] IS despairing to witness in solastalgia.
    I’d recommend lots of kissing, cuddling, dog patting, pot smoking, jazz listening, beach walking, tree hugging, wine drinking, laughing, loving, creating, stranger-snuggling, seat-offering, door-opening, child humouring, garden growing, flowers in vase-ing, scone baking, in the sun sitting, gun toting, pitchfork brandishing, skull cracking revolutionary action against the deep, dark forces radiating out of the Big Shiny Banks. Because they are the ones! They are the single entity to blame. They, all of them, have warped our thinking into having us thinking the way they want us to think and just look at where that thinking’s taking us. Into oblivion is my observation.
    Any NZ/AO gubbimint who deftly ignores our agrarian primary industry who, by default, come with the ecology umbilically attached and hands us into the claws of foreign banksters, which recent governments have done on both counts, is no government. They’re an enemy.
    The world is indeed in a death spiral but NZ/AO can show the way to a new path but instead? We’re rendered senseless by the gasses coming out of the exhaust pipes of the banksters.
    The Guardian’s George Manbiot.

    Now, if I had a dollar for every deaf ear…?

  5. “Those of us who campaigned for a change from the National Government and had our hopes pinned on a ‘progressive Labour-Greens government’ find ourselves drinking old wine in new bottles feeling less hope than a year before.”

    Yes, but I am not drinking old wine, I am drinking more beer than before, as it is all so damned depressing what I see being done under the present government (in part at least), and how hypocritical so many ordinary people are. Most think that all that needs to be done is to get rid of one way plastic bags, and then they feel ‘green’ and ‘responsible’ for the environment.

    Yet re-usable plastic bags are still made of plastic, will pose the same problems as one way bags may have caused at some time down the line, and are not really much of a sincere change of customer and consumer behaviour.

    People still drive their fossil fuel cars and some their nice SUVs imported from car making countries, to head to the malls, to the DIY serving markets and so forth, as if there is no need to change.

    They lament the lack or unreliability of public transport alternatives, but to be honest, they do simply prefer their own vehicle and space, as they do not want to sit next to a possibly unwashed common person on a bus or train.

    While some of NZ First’s policies make sense, they are lacking when it comes to saving the environment. And as Labour and Greens need to work with NZ First, this has put firm brakes on some things that need to be done urgently.

    So it is necessary to vote wisely in the next elections in 2020, and give Greens more votes, and Labour also, so they can govern without the need of another party or perhaps independent MPs.

    But even Labour are true hypocrites, as they carry on like business as usual on many fronts, as they are scared of the business sectors and lobby groups, who could get them out of office should they decide to run a campaign against the government.

    We are stuck there where many other countries and peoples are stuck, in dependence on fossil fuels, in complex trading, banking and other networks, and opting out of these is near impossible. Real change must happen globally, but see how hard it is to even get some united decisions within the UN, especially the UN Security Council.

    Things truly look very grim, I suppose, I need another beer, and yet another one after that, to switch off the worries and depressing reality.

  6. Kindness is not dealt out by pulling our farmers’ wool over our eyes.
    When will any government, red or blue, dish out the truth?
    Which bit of the changing climate does our “kind PM” want to concentrate on?
    This bit…apparently not. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c40qQxYZoLM
    You think NZ is not affected, best think again.

  7. Feelings of grief are appropriate, but feelings of disappointment with the government (or politicians in general) are not. Governments act with total disregard for the long term -always have, always will…..perpetual growth on a finite planet and all that. Their job: keep up the pretence.

    Industrial civilisation is predicated on continuous use of fossil fuels, and no one wants to give up the benefits of IC.

    There’s no escape from the progress trap.

  8. Say it like it is, a human oxymoron is a liar.
    This government lied to us about what they would put right, the rest of the article is fluffy words.

  9. Remember when Jacinda said she was a pragmatic idealist?

    Whenever a politician says that they’re being pragmatic they should have a dictionary thrown at them. The Collins may be a large enough clue bat.

    Pragmatism is all about doing what’s physically possible but when politicians use it they mean what’s politically possible and that keeps them working in an idealogical economy that’s actually unsustainable. In other words, they keep trying to do what’s physically impossible.

    Even the pragmatic philosophy was about doing things based upon their practical application and consequences. When things weren’t working the idea was to change them quickly in practical ways that got them working.

    So, no, the present government is not being pragmatic. They’re being anything but. The present system is not working in either a physical or political meaning and they’re not changing it so that it does.

  10. It’s a pity the Internet party was choked off by all parties.

    Also a pity that Hone Harawira is not in parliament. At least is would not be going through the motions and then justifying patently bad decisions, and has some critical thinking and courage left.

    Saying that, as much as I am disappointed in the new government I am more relived that the old one is out.

    Sad we now have to vote for the least worse party, not the best one.

    Must be part of the dimmer future.

  11. Thank you, Christine for speaking to truth. Ecological grief, yes, acceptance of powerlessness, no.

    One of my offspring asked me today why they were the only person who could see the future. I said many do; they know that climate change is here and they know what is happening to our world, it’s the politicians and the MSM who are hiding from reality, or who are trying to hide the reality,or who are living in their own little cocoons in time present.

    Totally sickened today at the poison oozing from “Stuff”, about the Pike River decision.What low lifes the publishers and the editors are choreographing the ignorance of the sewers.

    Worst were criticisms of dead miners for going to work in a place some thought not safe.

    That the dead were among the many workers who daily do things about which they have little choice if they want to keep their jobs, escapes the ignorant. And thinking that any government cares about their future, or any future, may be realm of the truly deluded.

    Getting rid of National was a first step towards a better future, but dancing on tip toes won’t work.

  12. Look, I can’t agree with you publishing this bleeding heart indulgence as an article. Please don’t, as it does none of readers like me any good, and it is offering nothing to any debate that is meaningful. Go cuddle your rabbit and be rightfully thankful that at this point in time you are in the position to own one as a pet. Thank you.

    • The point is, Lone Comet, that I know there is a high probability that I will die knowing that my children and my grandchildren’s style of living will be mighty different from mine, and infinitely worse.

      It doesn’t do me any good knowing this, in fact I would sooner not know it.

      But willfully suppressing knowledge is the domain of politicians and power mongers, not of the people.

      With knowledge, and dialogue, come the hope and the possibilities of effecting change. This is one reason why Christine’s writing is important, however much it makes our hearts bleed.

      It also provides a record for the future that we knew what was going on, and that it concerned us, and that we tried to do something about it- that we weren’t just sitting around cuddling rabbits and watching crappy television.

    • LP. Have courage to face change of direction.

      The present path is downhill and getting steeper but turning around is a slim option we must take and do whatever needed to force the perpetrators of business as usual..

      Are you suggesting we give up and be thankful.

  13. It’s remarkable that people see their hopes withering after ONE year of the new government. Poor diddums. You could be excused if you’d seen the decline of the environment and the ignoring of the ‘writing on the wall’ that have been the case for the last 40 years – ever since the ‘Club of Rome’ published ‘Design for a limited planet’. That most of those that took this message on board and who has tried to spread it to all and sundry can still look forward with some degree of optimism (though diminishing) and go on fighting for a better world, is a tick for the human spirit. Long may it last – and may many others join in the fight – without dragging themselves and others down with hopelessness.

  14. I’m a staunch Green and don’t feel like they have let me down (and I too suffer from a very serious case solastalgia that sees me wake up depressed at the thought of what is coming). Their lack of their power to do any more than the are comes from barely getting over the five percent thresh hold at the last election. New Zealanders still believe they can have it both ways and that is the problem. The Green’s message is that you can’t and as we see with petrol prices, that is unacceptable to the majority of New Zealanders who suffer from a sense of entitlement.

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