Climate change is increasingly understood to impact mental health through multiple pathways of risk, including intense feelings of grief as people suffer climate-related losses to valued species, ecosystems and landscapes. Despite growing research interest, ecologically driven grief, or ‘ecological grief’, remains an underdeveloped area of inquiry. We argue that grief is a natural and legitimate response to ecological loss, and one that may become more common as climate impacts worsen. Drawing upon our own research in Northern Canada and the Australian Wheatbelt, combined with a synthesis of the literature, we offer future research directions for the study of ecological grief.
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $17.42 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Rent or Buy article
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
Ceballos, G., Ehrlich, P. R. & Dirzo, R. Biological annihilation via the ongoing sixth mass extinction signaled by vertebrate population losses and declines. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 114, E6089–E6096 (2017).
Steffen, W., Broadgate, W., Deutsch, L., Gaffney, O. & Ludwig, C. The trajectory of the Anthropocene: the Great Acceleration. Anthropocene Rev. 2, 81–98 (2015).
Sutton, P. C., Anderson, S. J., Costanza, R. & Kubiszewski, I. The ecological economics of land degradation: impacts on ecosystem service values. Ecol. Econ. 129, 182–192 (2016).
Savo, V. et al. Observations of climate change among subsistence-oriented communities around the world. Nat. Clim. Change 6, 462–473 (2016).
Albrecht, G. et al. Solastalgia: the distress caused by environmental change. Aus. Psych. 15, 95–98 (2007). Identifies and examines the concept of solastalgia and the ways in which people respond with distress and sadness to a changing home or beloved environment.
Berry, H. et al. Mind, body, spirit: co-benefits for mental health from climate change adaptation and caring for country in remote Aboriginal Australian communities. NSW Public Health Bull. 21, 139–145 (2010).
Bourque, F. & Cunsolo Willox, A. Climate change: the next challenge for public mental health? Int. Rev. Psych. 24, 415–422 (2014).
Chamlee-Wright, E. & Storr, V. H. “There’s no place like New Orleans”: sense of place and community recovery in the Ninth Ward after Hurricane Katrina. J. Urban Affairs 30, 615–634 (2009).
Clayton, S., Manning, C. M. & Hodge, C. Beyond Storms and Droughts: The Psychological Impacts of Climate Change (American Psychological Association, ecoAmerica, 2014).
Cunsolo Willox, A. et al. From this place and of this place:” climate change, sense of place, and health in Nunatsiavut, Canada.Soc. Sci. Med. 75, 538–547 (2012). Highlights, through the lived experience of Inuitin Arctic Canada, the ways in which threats and disruptions to sense of place from a changing climate can impact mental and emotional health.
Cunsolo Willox, A. et al. Climate change and mental health: an exploratory case study from Rigolet, Nunatsiavut, Canada. Climatic Change 121, 255–270 (2013).A case study from Arctic Canada that documents and describes the ways in which climate change impacts mental health.
Cunsolo Willox, A. et al. Examining relationships between climate change and mental health in the Circumpolar North.Regional Environ. Change 15, 169–182 (2015). A synthesis of available literature and knowledge on environmental change and mental health, identifying key pathways through which climate change is impacting, or is likely to impact, circumpolar mental health outcomes.
Ellis, N. & Albrecht, G. Climate change threats to family farmers’ sense of place and mental wellbeing: a case study from the Western Australian Wheatbelt. Soc. Sci. Medicine 175, 161–168 (2017). Shows climatic changes in the Western Australian wheatbelt negatively affect family farmers’ mental wellbeing via disruptions to sense of place and place identity.
Kessler, R. C. et al. Trends in mental illness and suicidality after Hurricane Katrina. Mol. Psych. 13, 374–384 (2008).
Morrice, S. Heartache and Hurricane Katrina: recognising the influence of emotion in post-disaster return decisions. Area 45, 33–39 (2013).
Polain, J. D., Berry, H. & Hoskin, J. O. Rapid change, climate adversity and the next ‘big dry’: older farmers’ mental health. Aus. J. Rural Health 19, 239–243 (2011).
Speldewinde, P., Cook, A., Davies, P. & Weinstein, P. A relationship between environmental degradation and mental health in rural Western Australia. Health Place 15, 880–887 (2009).
Swim, J. et al. Psychology’s contributions to understanding and addressing global climate change. Am. Psych. 66, 241–250 (2011).
Clayton, S., Manning, C. M., Krygsman, K. & Speiser, M. Mental Health and our Changing Planet: Impacts, Implications, and Guidance (American Psychological Association, ecoAmerica, 2017). A key contribution examining, from a psychological perspective, the ways in which mental health will be challenged through climate change and resulting environmental alterations.
Cunsolo, A. & Landman, K. (eds) Mourning Nature: Hope at the Heart of Ecological Loss and Grief (McGill, Queen’s Univ. Press, Montreal, 2017). A seminal collection that addresses ecological grief and argues for the recognition and expression of emotions related to environmental degradation.
Head, L. The Anthropoceneans. Geogr. Res. 53, 313–320 (2015).
Parkes, C. M. & Prigerson, H. G. Bereavement: Studies of Grief in Adult Life 4th edn (Routledge, New York, 2010).
Neimeyer, R. A. & Cacciatore, J. in Techniques of Grief Therapy: Assessment and Intervention (ed. Neimeyer, R. A.) 3–13 (Routledge, New York, 2016).
Doka, K. Disenfranchised Grief: Recognizing Hidden Sorrow (Lexington Press, Lexington, 1989).
Cunsolo, A. in Mourning Nature: Hope at the Heart of Ecological Loss and Grief (eds Cunsolo, A. & Landman, K.) 169–189 (McGill, Queen’s Univ. Press, Montreal, 2017).
Cunsolo Willox, A. Climate change as the work of mourning. Ethics Environ. 17, 137–164 (2012).
Butler, J. Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence (Verso, New York, 2004). A key book outlining a framework for the political and ethical transformative powers of grief and the work of mourning through a recognition of shared vulnerability.
Stanescu, J. Species trouble: Judith Butler, mourning, and the precarious lives of animals. Hypatia 27, 567–582 (2012).
Rae, P. Double sorrow: proleptic elegy and the end of Arcadianism in the 1930s Britain. Twentieth Cent. Lit. 49, 246–275 (2003).
Spargo, R. The Ethics of Mourning: Grief and Responsibility in Elegiac Literature (John Hopkins Univ. Press, Baltimore, 2004).
Leopold, A. in From the Journals of Aldo Leopold: Round River (ed. Leopold, L. B.) 158–165 (Oxford Univ. Press, New York, 1953).
Windle, P. The ecology of grief. BioScience 42, 363–366 (1992). A profound personal meditiation on the significance of mourning for ecological losses from the perspective of a professional ecologist.
Hobbs, R. J. Grieving for the past and hoping for the future: balancing polarizing perspectives in conservation and restoration. Restoration Ecol. 21, 145–148 (2013).
Head, L. & Harada, T. Keeping the heart a long way from the brain: The emotional labour of climate scientists. Emotion Space Soc. 24, 34–41 (2017).
Cunsolo Willox, A. et al. ‘The land enriches the soul:’ on climatic and environmental change, affect, and emotional health and well-being in Rigolet, Nunatsiavut, Canada. Emotion Space Soc. 6, 1–11 (2011). An examination of affect theory, grounded within the lived experiences of Inuit in Canada, to highlight the emotional toll of climate change.
Reid, P. Returning to Nothing: The Meaning of Lost Landscapes (Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge,1996).
Proudley, M. Place matters. Aus. J. Emergency Manage. 28, 11–16 (2013).
It’s About People: Changing Perspectives on Dryness (Drought Policy Review Expert Social Panel, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, 2008).
McNamara, K. & Westoby, R. Solastalgia and the gendered nature of climate change: an example from Erub Island, Torres Strait. EcoHealth 8, 233–236 (2011).
Sartore, G.-M., Kelly, B., Stain, H. J., Albrecht, G. & Higginbotham, N. Control, uncertainty, and expectations for the future: a qualitative study of the impact of drought on a rural Australian community. Rural Remote Health 8, 950 (2008).
Tschakert, P., Tutu, R. & Alcaro, A. Embodied experiences of environmental and climatic changes in landscapes of everyday life in Ghana. Emotion Space Soc. 7, 13–25 (2013).
Ryan, J. C. in Mourning Nature: Hope at the Heart of Ecological Loss and Grief (eds Cunsolo, A. & Landman, K.) 117–143 (McGill, Queen’s Univ. Press, Montreal, 2017).
Whale, H. & Ginn, F. in Mourning Nature: Hope at the Heart of Ecological Loss and Grief (eds Cunsolo, A. & Landman, K.) 92–116 (McGill, Queen’s Univ. Press, Montreal, 2017).
Nixon, R. Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor (Harvard Univ. Press, Cambridge, 2011).
Albrecht, G. in Mourning Nature: Hope at the Heart of Ecological Loss and Grief (eds Cunsolo, A. & Landman, K.) 292–315 (McGill, Queen’s Univ. Press, Montreal, 2017).
Durkalec, A., Furgal, C., Skinner, M. W. & Sheldon, T. Climate change influences on environment as a determinant of Indigenous health: relationships to place, sea ice, and health in an Inuit community. Soc. Sci. Medicine 136, 17–26 (2015).
Rigby, C. W., Rosen, A., Berry, H. & Hart, C. H. If the land’s sick, we’re sick: the impact of prolonged drought on the social and emotional well-being of Aboriginal communities in rural New South Wales. Aus. J. Rural Health 19, 249–254 (2011).
Anderson, D. Drought, endurance and ‘the way things were’: the lived experience of climate and climate change in the Mallee. Aus. Humanities Rev. 45, 67–81 (2008).
Ng, F., Wilson, L. & Veitch, C. Climate adversity and resilience: the voice of rural Australia. Rural Remote Health 15, 3071 (2015).
Rickards, L. A. Critical Breaking Point: The Effects of Climate Variability, Change and other Pressures on Farm Households (Birchip Cropping Group and the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative Platform, 2011).
Furberg, M., Evengard, B. & Nilsson, M. Facing the limit of resilience: perceptions of climate change among reindeer herding Sami in Sweden. Glob. Health Action 4, 8417 (2011).
Boss, P. Ambiguous Loss: Learning to Live With Unresolved Grief (Harvard Univ. Press, Cambridge, 1999).
Kubler-Ross, E. On Death and Dying: What the Dying Have to Teach Doctors, Nurses, Clergy and Their Own Families 40th edn (Routledge, Abingdon, 2009).
Manzo, L. C. & Devine-Wright, P. (eds) Place Attachment: Advances in Theory, Methods and Applications. (Routledge, New York, 2014).
Fried, M. in The Urban Condition (ed. Duhl, L.) 151–171 (Basic Books, New York, 1963).
Fullilove, M. T. Psychiatric implications of displacement: contributions from the psychology of place. Am. J. Psych. 153, 1516–1523 (1996).
Relph, E. Place And Placelessness (Pion Limited, London, 1976).
Tuan, Y. Topophilia: A Study of Environmental Perception, Attitudes, and Values (Columbia Univ. Press, New York, 1974).
Proshansky, H., Fabian, A. & Kaminoff, R. Place-identity: physical world socialisation of the self. J. Environ. Psych. 3, 57–83 (1983).
Fried, M. Continuities and discontinuities of place. J. Environ. Psych. 20, 193–205 (2000).
Adger, N. Place, well-being, and fairness shape priorities for adaptation to climate change. Glob. Environ. Change 38, A1–A3 (2016).
Fresque-Baxter, J. & Armitage, D. Place identity and climate change adaptation: a synthesis and framework for understanding. WIREs Clim. Change 3, 251–266 (2012).
Hess, J., Malilay, J. & Parkinson, A. Climate change: the importance of place. Am. J. Prevent. Med. 35, 468–478 (2008).
Lewicka, M. Place attachment: how far have we come in the last 40 years? J. Environ. Psych. 31, 207–230 (2011).
Scannell, L. & Gifford, R. Defining place attachment: a tripartite organising framework. J. Environ. Psych. 30, 1–10 (2010).
Lewicka, M. What makes neighbourhood different from home and city? Effects of place scale on place attachment. J. Environ. Psych. 30, 35–51 (2010).
Mallett, S. Understanding home: a critical review of the literature. Soc. Rev. 52, 62–82 (2004).
Blunt, A. & Dowling, R. Home (Routledge, New York, 2006).
Lewicka, M. On the varieties of people’s relationships with places: Hummon’s typology revisted. Environ. Behav. 43, 676–709 (2011).
Brown, B. B., Perkins, D., Altman, I. & Low, S. M. (ed.) Place Attachment. (Plenum, New York, 1992).
Devine-Wright, P. in Place Attachment: Advances in Theory, Method and Applications (eds Manzo, L. C. & Devine-Wright, P.) 165–177 (Routledge, Abingdon, 2014).
Devine-Wright, P. Rethinking NIMBYism: the role of place attachment and place identity in explaining place-protective action. J. Commun. Appl. Psych. 19, 426–441 (2009).
Inalhan, G. & Finch, E. Place attachment and sense of belonging. Facilities 22, 120–128 (2004).
Beery, T. H. & Wolf-Watz, D. Nature to place: rethinking the environmental connectedness perspective. J. Environ. Psych. 40, 198–205 (2014).
Malpas, J. E. Place and Experience: A Philosophical Topography (Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, 1999).
O’Brien, L. V., Berry, H., Coleman, C. & Hanigan, I. Drought as mental health exposure. Environ. Res. 131, 181–187 (2014).
Tschakert, P. et al. Climate change and loss, as if people mattered: values, places, and experiences. WIREs Clim. Change 8, e476 (2017).
Barnett, J., Tschakert, P., Head, L. & Adger, N. A science of loss. Nat. Clim. Change 6, 976–978 (2016).
Adger, N., Barnett, J., Chapin, F. S. & Ellemore, H. This must be the place: underrepresentation of identity and meaning in climate change decision making. Glob. Environ. Politics 11, 1–25 (2011).
Hasbach, P. H. Therapy in the face of climate change. Ecopsychology 7, 205–210 (2015).
Moser, S. C. Reflections on climate change communication research and practice in the second decade of the 21st century: What more is there to say? WIREs Clim. Change 7, 345–369 (2016).
Freud, S. in On Freud’s Mourning and Melancholia (eds Fiorini, L. G. et al.) 19–34 (International Psychoanalytical Association, London, 2007).
Boss, P. The trauma and complicated grief of ambiguous loss. Pastoral Psych. 59, 137–145 (2010).
Harper, S. L. et al. Climate-sensitive health prioritise in Nunatsiavut, Canada. BMC Public Health 15, 605 (2015).
Petrasek MacDonald, J., Harper, S. L., Cunsolo Willox, A., Edge, V. L. & Rigolet Inuit Community Government. A necessary voice: Climate change and lived experiences of youth in Rigolet, Nunatsiavut, Canada. Glob. Environ. Change 23, 360–371 (2012).
Ellis, N. R. Farmers’ Sense of Place and Mental Wellbeing in an Era of Rapid Climate Change: A Case Study in the Western Australian Wheatbelt. PhD thesis, Murdoch Univ. (2016).
Thank you to S. Harper (University of Guelph) and J. Snook (Torngat Wildlife, Plants, and Fisheries Secretariat and the University of Guelph) for providing feedback and helpful suggestions on this manuscript.
The authors declare no competing interests.
Publisher’s note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
About this article
Cite this article
Cunsolo, A., Ellis, N.R. Ecological grief as a mental health response to climate change-related loss. Nature Clim Change 8, 275–281 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-018-0092-2
Japan Forum (2021)
Ecological Grief as a Response to Environmental Change: A Mental Health Risk or Functional Response?
International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health (2021)
Adapting to climate change in small-scale fisheries: Insights from indigenous communities in the global north and south
Environmental Science & Policy (2021)