If “the limits of my language … mean the limits of my world”, as the early Wittgenstein once argued, then our current language has impoverished both humans and the nature it supposedly describes.
I am a scientific realist, yet I acknowledge the power of language and narratives in creating the zeitgeist, through which humans interpret what is significant in their lives.
The past and current language we are using to understand ourselves in relationship to the Earth is sadly often redundant, confused and mistaken. It separates and alienates us from nature … no better illustrated than with the concept of the ‘environment’[i]
The ‘environment’ implies something that surrounds us … it is a root cause of human alienation from life which knows no boundaries. The ‘environment’ has been appropriated by forces that continue the ecocide of this planet, including by those calling themselves ‘environmentalists’.
There are many other concepts that are being similarly appropriated and misused … resilience, regenerative, sustainable and sustainable development. All of these concepts are easily corrupted because they fail to specify exactly what is to be sustained, to be resilient, to be regenerated.
It is all too easy for capitalists to claim these terms for their own purposes as they ‘regenerate’ capitalism to make it more ‘resilient’ after recurrent crises. This point is no better illustrated by, for example, the claim of the current Australian Prime Minister that after Covid -19, Capitalism should be resilient and “snap back” to its former pre-Covid-19 state.
It gets worse, even key concepts such as ‘ecology’ might need to be replaced. The root word, oikos, meaning the ‘management of the household’, when applied to the Earth, under Capitalism, becomes carbon offsets, biodiversity offsets, natural Capital and ecosystem services expressed as dollar values. Because capitalism and ecology have become so intertwined, both must go.
And, from Albrecht (2020):
“In many respects, especially for Indigenous people, the scientifically derived terms “ecology,” “ecological,” and “ecosystem” also fail to capture the emotional and cultural dimensions of the human relationship to land. They are useful terms in systems science but not so relevant to the expression of human emotions. Ecosystems are abstractions, as it is impossible to know where an ecosystem starts and finishes. Although it may seem counter-intuitive, the use of terms such as “ecological” with respect to human psychological states might even be an inadvertent form of neo-colonization by the misuse of bioscience placed into Indigenous belief systems.
More generally, given the dual origins of both economics and ecology in the Greek “oikos,” defined as the management of the household, the use of “eco” can take us in the direction of ecosystem services and ecosystem offsets, where the ecological is expressed in purely monetary terms and subject to economic managerialism.
Because of the risks of cultural and fiscal colonizing, I have come to the conclusion that where possible, the applications of the discipline “ecology” should be restricted to the domains of the “oikos.” Human emotions with respect to the Earth, the psychoterratic, deserve to have defining terms that carry no such excess baggage.”
See: Negating Solastalgia: An Emotional Revolution from the Anthropocene to the Symbiocene, See: https://muse.jhu.edu/article/753059
My quest for a new language of and for the Earth, particularly in the English language, is one that I believe contemporary humans urgently need to put them back into nature and life and symbiotically re-integrate culture, language and the non-human. As the later Wittgenstein might have put it:
“the expansion of my language means the expansion of my world”.
With new terms for our emotional relationship to the Earth, we are empowered and in a stronger position to reject the ecocidal past and create a better future. As the world changes, our language must change with it.
Such words include both negative and positive emotional engagement. Negative Earth emotions include solastalgia, tierratrauma and terrafurie. Our positive Earth emotions include eutierria, endemophilia and of course, a future era where such named positive emotions can flourish, the Symbiocene.
Finally, while such “name giving” might appear to be an example of the social construction of reality, I argue that this naming is a legitimate response to novel changes in the biophysical world, outside of cultural and evolutionary experience and in areas where language has not previously had any traction.
In the same way, I do not see the novel emotional responses in people to such pervasive change in terms of reductionism, where emotional reactions to change are pathologized and seen as “mental illness.” On the contrary, I see these novel Earth emotions as rational responses to irrational situations imposed on people. Examples of such novel Earth emotions occur when, for example, open pit coal mining or gas fracking forcibly enter the territory and homes of rural and remote people.
We are also seeing new forms of ‘invasion’ in the form of the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic and global climate warming.
As Einstein might have said:
“you can’t solve the problems of the Anthropocene by using the same anthropocentric thought and language that created those problems in the first place“.
[i] [1300 –50; Middle English envirounen, Old French environner, derivative of environ around (en en-1 + viron a circle; vir(er) to turn, veer + -on ; suffix ment, Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin -mentum; akin to Latin -men, suffix denoting concrete result, a state, Greek -mat-, -ma].