Ecological emotions, feelings and affects

Examining the emotional implications of ecological destruction

These times of rapid ecological change are revealing the complex and multifaceted affective attachments people (human and non-human) have to their environments. This collaborative multidisciplinary research program considers ecological emotions, feelings and affects, and in turn, their effects on the world.

It explores questions such as: how (i.e. through what mechanisms) do people feel their environments? What common and unique feelings are people having in these times of ecological destruction? How do social, cultural, economic and political forces shape the ways different people feel? (How) do such feelings, including emotions like fear, despair and anger participate in social transformation and act as motivations to initiate change? How can we best respond to these feelings – as individuals, as communities, as academics, as societies?

The project considers the multiple geographical (embodied, local, global) and temporal (past, present, future) scales of ecological feelings; their social and political dimensions; and the relationships they emerge from and contribute to. We seek to develop rich accounts of experiences, scholarly reflections on the cultural implications of these experiences, and tangible policy recommendations.

Common themes include climate grief, eco-anxiety, hope, mental health and wellbeing, activism, community, denial, and resilience.

Contributors: Dr Blanche Verlie, Dr James DunkAssociate Professor Paul RhodesProfessor Anik WaldowProfessor Danielle CelermajerDr Jo Longman, Associate Professor Rosanne Quinnell, Associate Professor Dalia Nassar

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Situated at the intersection of political theory, the environmental humanities, theology, literary and cultural studies, our AHRC-funded interdisciplinary network's aim is to recover, acknowledge, and analyse a wide range of environmental emotions. We examine their critical and transformational potential in relation to (still) broadly disavowed environmental degradation, on the one hand, and the ‘compulsory hopism’ of most public discourses, on the other. Our main goal is to articulate a new research agenda, aiming to provide theoretically rigorous and empirically well-grounded perspectives on the challenges, but also the opportunities that environmental emotions present for green politics today. Therefore, the network has four key objectives.

Theoretically, the network will bring together scholars from a multitude of fields to assesses how environmental emotions might play an epistemic (knowledge-enhancing) role in recognising and publicly thematising widely disavowed environmental crises. Moreover, while acknowledging their ambiguity, the network’s members will investigate the extent to which these emotions can fulfil a practical (action-guiding) function that might counteract the pernicious effects of denialism, self-interested ignorance, and imprudent techno-optimism, but also trouble the broadly shared belief in the strategic necessity of hope for ecological action.

Interpretively, the network will aim to produce a culturally sensitive emotional cartography of the environmental crisis and second, test and calibrate the network’s theoretical proposals in light of the conceptualisations emerging on the ground, in praxis and testimonies by activist, scientists, public intellectuals, scholars and journalists from both the Global North and South.

Methodologically, this is an interdisciplinary network, whose members cross arbitrary disciplinary boundaries in search of concepts and ethical insight. The complexity of environmental emotions requires such crossings, which can enhance our understanding of the environmental crisis’ effects on specific groups’ well-being, as well as help us recuperate the value of historically marginalised perspectives for environmental politics.

Critically, the network will outline a research programme that can inform public debates about the environmental crises and the failures to address them, challenging both emotionally anchored disavowal and the (often unreflective and sometimes escapist) emphasis on hope.

This project is part of the Ecological emotions, feelings and affects cluster.

Partners: This project is led by the University of Edinburgh and SEI.

Contributors: Dr Mihaela Mihai, Professor Danielle Celermajer, Professor Anik Waldow, Associate Professor Dalia Nassar, Dr Blanche Verlie, Dr James Dunk, Dr Michael Albert, Professor Mary Holmes, Dr Sarah ParryProfessor Mathias ThalerTalia ShovalGrace GarlandAssistant Professor Joshua Barnett, Professor Carl CassegårdDr Clara de Massol, Milo Newman, Dr Panu Pihkala, Dr Eris Williams-Reed

Clinical psychology is ill-equipped to respond to climate distress, given the focus on personal pathology and cognitive models, rather than affect that relates to external, ecological events. We are now at a critical time in planetary history where the climate crisis is undeniable, and where eco-anxiety is becoming an almost universal experience. This is particularly the case in young people, who face the reality of a lifetime of severe and devastating climate events.

Headspace is the country’s leading mental health service for young people, aged 12-25, but as yet has no consistent approach to climate distress. Initiated by Jordan Koder, member of the Youth Advisory Committee at headspace Camperdown for this purpose, the aim of this project is to support a group of youth advisory leaders in headspace to develop a set of resources for headspace clinicians.

Using the methodology of Youth-Based Participatory Action Research, a qualitative research method that allows the development of practice through an iterative process of youth-led consultation, action and review, members of headspace Youth Advisory Committees will collaborate with members of the Sydney Environment Institute to develop a set of written, video and seminar-based resources for clinicians.

These resources will focus on the following issues:

  • How is climate distress being experienced by youth?
  • What interdisciplinary knowledge is available for the understanding of climate emotions?
  • How might this be integrated with traditional clinical approaches to distress?
  • What are the critical issues and approaches that young people want clinicians to acknowledge and include in their practice?

This project is supported by SEI’s 2022 Collaborative Project Fellowship scheme.

This project is part of the Ecological emotions, feelings and affects cluster.

Contributors: Associate Professor Paul RhodesDr James Dunk, Jordan Koder 

Profound barriers still separate humans from other species, and from the planet – semantically, affectively, practically. But new lexicons and glossaries seek to describe a world which seems to have outgrown the words we once used, and we need to listen more closely to the way language is being used to articulate the present moment.

New words are proposed to mark a geological epoch: anthropocenetechnoceneplantationocenemanthropocene. The language, like the epoch, is contorted and violent, but there are more elegant names: cthulucene, eremocene, the age of loneliness. In a plethora of new dictionaries, lexicons, and glossaries, language is gathered to give form and texture to these imagined epochs. Here there are words of clarified grief and dread but also words of hope, drafted from different languages and histories to find and steady ourselves in the spiral sweep of post-industrial, post-local, post-human time. These words seem to thrust down through space and time to find the places we fear are lost or fear to lose. Some are ancient, holding intimacies born of long practice and habit, now recovered and collected as passwords to other lifeworlds. Others are new words to express and realise new scientific findings or philosophical aspirations: solastalgiabiophobia, omnicidesymbiocene.

In this collaborative project we aim to map the power and limits of language to collapse time and space and to guide us into futures which words themselves bring forth.

To share your thoughts or to join us, please contact Jamie (

This project is part of the Ecological emotions, feelings and affects cluster.

Contributors: Dr James DunkProfessor Anik Waldow