, Volume 1, Issue 2 Supplement, pp SU47-SU58
Date: 28 Oct 2004

Environmental Change and Human Health in Upper Hunter Communities of New South Wales, Australia

Abstract

This article presents the theory and method informing an ongoing study of environmental change and human distress in the Upper Hunter Valley of New South Wales (NSW), Australia. The nature of environmental change in the Upper Hunter landscape over the past two centuries is first described, followed by the preliminary results of a long-term study that aims to investigate the nature of residents’ understanding of, and responses to, environmental change. Data from in-depth interviews found that the transformation of the environment from mining and power station activities was associated with significant expressions of distress linked to negative changes to interviewees’ sense of place, well-being, and control. A new concept, “solastalgia,” is introduced to help explain the relationship between ecosystem health, human health, and powerlessness. We claim that solastalgia, as opposed to nostalgia, is a type of homesickness (distress) that one gets when one is still “at home.” Future research will aim to validate a questionnaire to test the hypothesis that environmental distress is associated with levels of depression, quality of life, and rates of stress-related disease, as well as activism and environmental rehabilitation.