Motivation and emotion/Book/2022/Ecological grief

Ecological grief:
What is ecological grief and what can be done about it?


Figure 1: Small village in the Western Ghats of India, [grammar?] this community and others are reliant on the environment for work and life purposes

Climate change has and continues to cause major transformations to the planet and is increasingly recognised as posing a threat to human health and wellbeing (Cianconi et al., 2020). The impacts of the current climate crisis on the environment are becoming a known lived experience for many individuals, groups, and cultures. The current and anticipated changes to the environment not only have a significant impact on individuals' health and wellbeing but also on individuals' emotions, and can lead to experiences of grief for what's been lost and will be lost. The term ecological grief was first coined by Aldo Leopold in the 1940s as a description for climate-related grief[factual?]. Ecological grief is a long-term emotion consequence of environmental changes (Winerman, 2019).

New and emerging research addresses the emotional and psychological effects that environmental changes have on an individual's wellbeing. The mental health effects of environmental changes can occur directly due to natural disasters and extreme weather events or indirectly as a result of long-term stressors that cultivate ill mental health (Cianconi et al., 2020).

Focus questions:
  • What is ecological grief?
  • Who first coined the term ecological grief?
  • What are some of the noticeable impacts of climate change in your community?

Figure 2: Grief can be expressed through many different emotions including crying

Definition of griefEdit

Grief is a natural, internal, physiological, and emotional response to loss. The processes of grieving are multiform, varying greatly among individuals and cross-culturally across groups (Shear, 2012). An individual who is experiencing grief may often have feelings that include: physiological distress, separation anxiety, confusion, yearning, sadness, obsessive dwelling on the past, and apprehension about the future[factual?]. Grief can also take the form of regret, remorse, or sorrow (see Figure 2) (Shear, 2012).

Definition of ecological griefEdit

Ecological grief is the emotional experience of grieving the loss of the environment including ecosystems, places, species, knowledge, and anticipated losses (Comtesse et al., 2021). Research asserts that ecological grief is an instinctive response to ecological losses and can be more severally[spelling?] impactful for individuals and communities who have life, work or cultural relationships with the environment (Comtesse et al., 2021).

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Grief associated with physical ecological losses Grief associated with the physical disappearance, degradation and or death of the environment. This form of grief is commonly experienced in the aftermath of weather-related disasters and emerges in response to gradual changes to the environment (Cunsolo & Ellis, 2018).


  • Research conducted amongst Hurricane Katrine evacuees found that individuals experienced significant ecological grief associated with the physical loss of their homes and communities. Some individuals also reported having continued feelings of grief after moving back home or relocating (Morrice, 2012).
Grief associated with loss of environmental knowledge Grief experienced as a response to the loss of environmental knowledge and identity. This is particularly influential for individuals who maintain a close living and working relationship with the environment. The environment for many people plays a key role in self-identity and personal understanding. The changes to the environment can disrupt an individual’s sense of self (Cunsolo Willox et al., 2012; Cunsolo & Ellis, 2018).


  • Australian farmers are reportedly experiencing a loss of confidence in in the weather patterns and consequently their ability to know and understand it. This grief associated with the loss of environmental knowledge can foster anxieties related to their futures and livelihoods (Ellis & Albrecht, 2017).
Grief associated with anticipated future losses Grief experienced from having knowledge of what could happen based on already-experienced changes and projected changes. Feeling anticipatory grief for ecological changes and losses that are yet to occur such as future losses to culture, livelihoods and ways of life (Cunsolo Willox et al., 2012; Cunsolo & Ellis, 2018).


  • Recent reports have indicated that the grief associated with anticipatory future losses is likely to be more prevalent in younger generations such as children and adolescents as they are currently growing up with mass media which pushes a doom-and-gloom narrative regarding the environment and its future (Clayton, 2020).


We can identify two types of grief: acute and persistent. Acute grief occurs in the first six to 12 months after a loss and gradually resolves. Persistent grief lasts longer than 12 months (Harvard Health, 2021). This is not dissimilar to experiences of ecological grief; as stated, above ecological grief can be experienced immediately on in the short-term after an environmental event or can be experienced as anticipatory grief for what is inevitably believed to happen[factual?].

In response to ecological grief and climate change, research is increasingly establishing efforts towards understanding the implications it has on mental health. The experience of ecological grief can pose as a risk to an individual’s mental wellbeing (Comtesse et al., 2021; Clayton et al., 2017). Consequences of ecological grief can be adaptive or maladaptive (Comtesse et al., 2021). Environmental changes are associated with a wide spectrum of acute and chronic mental health diseases, both physical and psychological, including; anger, anxiety, depression, distress, despair, fear, helplessness, hopelessness and stress, mood disorders, and pre- and post-traumatic stress; increased drug and alcohol usage; suicide ideation; threats and disruptions to sense of place and place attachment; and loss of personal or cultural identity and ways of knowing (Marshall et al., 2019).

Earth Day

Since 1970, Earth Day has been celebrated by billions of people globally. Every year on every April 22, individuals join together to promote awareness for the health of our environment and planet (see Figure 3).

Theories, concepts and frameworksEdit

Understanding emotions is critical to knowing the treatments for emotionally linked problems such as ecological grief (Okon-Singer et al., 2015). Different theories enable us to understand the internal processes that account for the production of emotion and emotion regulation (Okon-Singer et al., 2015).

Placement attachment theoryEdit

Place attachment can be applied as a theoretical foundation of ecological grief. The concept of place refers to a space that has acquired personal meaning and can be applied to aspects of the social and physical environment (Comtesse et al., 2021). Place attachment is therefore one's emotional or affective ties to a place and is generally thought to be the result of a long-term connection with a certain environment (Low & Altman, 1992). Place attachment shows that individuals by nature form emotional and psychological bonds to a variety of places; many individuals form an attachment to places, constructing part of their identity around it (see Figure 1) (Scannell & Gifford, 2010), and these attachments are significant to an individual’s physical and psychological wellbeing. Therefore, from a mental health perspective, this can explain the disruption to an individual’s attachment after ecological loss, resulting in experiences of grief. However, the theory acknowledges that not all place attachments are equal in significance, and that the grief experienced from losing an important home environment may be different to losing environments of a different type or with different meanings (Comtesse et al., 2021). Similarly, through place attachment theory we can identify which types of people-place bonds are more susceptible to climate-driven disruptions (Scannell & Gifford, 2010). Furthermore, theoretical models of place attachment may help in the identification of the stages of ecological grief as they manifest over time as well as the psychological processes underpinning ecological grief (Comtesse et al., 2021).


[How about linking to the chapter about solastalgia?]

The concept of solastalgia describes the distress and inability that an individual experiences from disruptive environmental changes, deriving them from comfort and instead creating a sense of detachment and grieving (Albrecht, 2019). Solastalgia describes how individuals' and communities’ sense of identity, belonging and control are impacted by negative environmental change. Place attachment prominently features in the conceptual foundations of solastalgia (Idrovo, 2020).  Solastalgia has been related to a loss of connection between an individual’s identity and environment (Askland & Bunn, 2018). Negative emotional responses can influence engagement with effective coping responses or inaction towards negatively perceived environmental change (Clayton & Karazsia, 2020). Cunsolo and Ellis (2018) demonstrate that solastalgia can be expressed by an individual post ecological losses due to loss of identity and environmental knowledge[Provide more detail].

Biophilia theoryEdit

The biophilia theory states that humans possess an innate tendency to seek connections with nature (Schauer et al., 2016). The theory provides evidence as to why individuals prefer natural environments to industrial environments, and how nature can be linked to stress recovery and acceptance of emotions, behaviour, wellbeing, and cognition (Engstrom, 2019). The theory recognises humans[grammar?] deep emotional and biological need to connect to the natural environment (Engstrom, 2019). The theory therefore recognises that climate change has a significant impact on individuals lives and wellbeing and leads to a sense of fear which can further lead to ecological grief (Ágoston et al., 2022).

Kubler-ross model of griefEdit

Figure 4: People protesting climate change and pro-environmental behaviours

Ecological grief follows a similar trajectory to other forms of grief[factual?]. The Kubler-ross model of grief describes a series of emotions experienced by individuals who are grieving (Avis et al., 2021).

  • Denial. During the denial stage, an individual might experience a variety of physical symptoms and may choose to refuse the scientific reasoning in fear of facing the implications of negative environmental change.  To deny the reality of loss, they may ignore the potential consequences and the need for action (Kesssler & Kubler-Ross, 2005).
  • Anger. An individual begins to blame others and express frustration about the loss felt. In the context of ecological grief, those who acknowledge the severity and urgency may be frustrated at the lack of effort to address the situation (Kesssler & Kubler-Ross, 2005).
  • Bargaining. Individuals seek to change their behaviour to try and regain what has been lost or what is anticipated to be lost. Individuals may bargain by practising prosocial behaviours such as recycling to make up for other behaviours, that contribute to ecological loss (Kesssler & Kubler-Ross, 2005).
  • Depression. Individuals may feel hopeless or helpless and powerless. In a period of profound despair and depression, some intervention would be helpful. The hopelessness felt can be expressed on different levels – loss of culture, identity, place and land. This is a period marred by learnt helplessness (Kesssler & Kubler-Ross, 2005).
  • Acceptance. It is an active acceptance of the feelings and facts of environment loss felt. An individual embraces the anticipated loss or the morality of the environment. To deal with the acceptance of ecological grief an individual may seek to find the truth of the situation and actively engage in behaviours to deal with environmental grief (see Figure 4) (Kesssler & Kubler-Ross, 2005).
Case study:

The Ash Wednesday Bushfires in 1983 in Australia had a significant impact to individuals and communities, farmers, local businesses, wildlife and bushland.

Susan recounts "You're running on adrenaline and it's only when it all stops that it overwhelms you and you realise what you've been through."

During the Ash Wednesday fires Susan found herself running barefoot up a dirt road, trying to escape the flames while herding farm animals. Since that experience Susan has spent her summers living in terror after surviving the bushfires that hit her property. Susan says each summer she experiences great distress including, shaking, and PTSD (Puddy, 2020).

ABC Ash Wednesday Bushfires article

A call to actionEdit

[Provide more detail]

What can be done about it[grammar?]Edit

The majority of individuals that[grammar?] experience and suffer from ecological grief function well and are adaptive to environmental changes, however, some individuals and groups require psychological support[factual?]. Research suggests that several solution-focused coping strategies could be helpful when working with individuals experiencing ecological grief (Cunsolo et al., 2020).  The cognitive restructuring of excessive feelings of guilt and responsibility for the loss and anticipated loss of the environment can lead to individuals and groups of people feeling a sense of control. Similarly, ecological grief is not something we should necessarily suppress[factual?]. If individuals can harness the emotions felt from the loss of environmental changes and are provided a safe space to explore it, ecological grief can contribute to resilience and meaningful action (Cunsolo et al., 2020). Feelings associated with ecological grief could motivate environmental behaviour (Comtesse et al., 2021).

Future researchEdit

Ecological grief is still a fairly new concept and is continuing to be recognised and researched within the mental health industry. In terms of the direction for the future, it would beneficial and informative for a measure of ecological grief to be implemented. By having a standardised instrument of measurement, it would facilitate consistency and an understanding of ecological grief and allow for an empirical differentiation from other similar related and similar constructs (Comtesse et al., 2021).

Similarly, an established measurement for ecological grief facilitates data collection. A measurement of ecological grief helps establish patterns and determinate's within different demographics and the mental health correlations of ecological grief. Establishing a standardised measure of ecological grief will also provide researchers' and professionals with quantitative and qualitative measures (Galway et al., 2019).

Finally, there is an opportunity for mental health professionals to specialise in ecological grief and recognise its impact on individuals and groups, evaluating strategies to reduce mental health risks and implement coping mechanisms and therapies such as solution-focused coping strategies (Comtesse et al., 2021).


1 According to biophilia theory, humans possess an innate tendency to seek connections with nature?


2 Restructuring negative emotions around ecological grief can lead to prosocial behaviour?


3 Solution focused coping strategies could be helpful when working with individuals experiencing ecological grief?



Ecological grief, a term first coined by Aldo Leopold, is the emotional experience of grieving the loss of the environment (Comtesse et al., 2021). Ecological grief impacts an individual’s[grammar?] mental health both directly and indirectly. Acute climate events have been linked to experiencing feelings of anxiety, anger, despair, depression, fear, sadness and stress (Cunsolo & Ellis, 2018). Extreme or prolonged climate-related events can also have delayed effects on an individual’s mental health including experiencing post-traumatic stress, substance abuse, and suicide. Most people suffering from ecological grief will function well and adapt, however, some people may need psychological help (Cunsolo et al., 2020). The experience of ecological grief is likely to become more frequent around the world, as climate change continues to become more prominent and further research needs to be established as there are not many empirical studies on ecological grief (Cunsolo & Ellis, 2018).

See alsoEdit


Ágoston, C., Urbán, R., Nagy, B., Csaba, B., Kőváry, Z., Kovács, K., Varga, A., Dúll, A., Mónus, F., Shaw, C. A., & Demetrovics, Z. (2022). The psychological consequences of the ecological crisis: Three new questionnaires to assess eco-anxiety, eco-guilt, and ecological grief. Climate Risk Management, 37, 100441.

Albrecht, G. A. (2019). Earth emotions: New words for a new world. Cornell University Press.

Askland, H. H., & Bunn, M. (2018). Lived experiences of environmental change: Solastalgia, power and place. Emotion, Space and Society, 27, 16–22.

Avis, K. A., Stroebe, M., & Schut, H. (2021). Stages of grief portrayed on the internet: A systematic analysis and critical appraisal. Frontiers in Psychology, 12.

Cianconi, P., Betrò, S., & Janiri, L. (2020). The impact of climate change on mental health: A systematic descriptive review. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 11.

Clayton, S. (2020). Mental health on a changing planet. Planetary Health, 221–244.

Clayton, S., & Karazsia, B. T. (2020). Development and validation of a measure of climate change anxiety. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 69, 101434.

Clayton, S., Manning, C. M., Krygsman, K., & Speiser, M. (2017). Mental health and our changing climate: Impacts, implications, and guidance. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association, and ecoAmerica.

Comtesse, H., Ertl, V., Hengst, S. M. C., Rosner, R., & Smid, G. E. (2021). Ecological grief as a response to environmental change: A mental health risk or functional response? International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(2), 734.

Cunsolo Willox, A., Harper, S. L., Ford, J. D., Landman, K., Houle, K., & Edge, V. L. (2012). “From this place and of this place:” Climate change, sense of place, and health in Nunatsiavut, Canada. Social Science & Medicine, 75(3), 538–547.

Cunsolo, A., & Ellis, N. (2018). Ecological grief as a mental health response to climate change-related loss. Nature Climate Change, 8, 275-281.

Cunsolo, A., Harper, S. L., Minor, K., Hayes, K., Williams, K. G., & Howard, C. (2020). Ecological grief and anxiety: the start of a healthy response to climate change? The Lancet Planetary Health, 4(7), e261–e263.

Ellis, N. R., & Albrecht, G. A. (2017). Climate change threats to family farmers’ sense of place and mental wellbeing: A case study from the Western Australian wheatbelt. Social Science & Medicine, 175, 161–168.

Engstrom, S. (2019). Recognising the role eco-grief plays in responding to environmental degradation. Journal of Transdisciplinary Peace Praxis, 1 (1), pp. 168-186.

Galway, L. P., Beery, T., Jones-Casey, K., & Tasala, K. (2019). Mapping the solastalgia literature: A scoping review study. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 16(15), 2662.

Harvard Health. (2021). How to overcome grief’s health-damaging effects.

Idrovo, A. (2020). Coauthors’ network of solastalgia. Comment on Galway, L.P.; Beery, T.; Jones-Casey, K.; Tasala, K. Mapping the solastalgia literature: A scoping review study. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2019, 16, 2662. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(7), 2308.

Kesssler, D., & Kubler-Ross, E. (2005). On grief and grieving: Finding the meaning of grief through the five stages. Simon & Schuster Publishing.

Low, S. M., & Altman, I. (1992). Place attachment. Place Attachment, 1–12.

Marshall, N. A., Thiault, L., Beeden, A., Beeden, R., Benham, C., Curnock, M. I., Diedrich, A., Gurney, G. G., Jones, L., Marshall, P. A., Nakamura, N., & Pert, P. (2019). Our environmental value orientations influence how we respond to climate change. Frontiers in Psychology, 10.

Morrice, S. (2012). Heartache and Hurricane Katrina: recognising the influence of emotion in post-disaster return decisions. Area, 45(1), 33–39.

Okon-Singer, H., Hendler, T., Pessoa, L., & Shackman, A. J. (2015). The neurobiology of emotion–cognition interactions: fundamental questions and strategies for future research. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 9.

Puddy, R. (2020). This year’s Australian bushfires prompt calls to heed lessons learnt after Ash Wednesday trauma. ABC News.

Scannell, L., & Gifford, R. (2010). Defining place attachment: A tripartite organizing framework. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 30(1), 1–10.

Schauer, B., Koch, K., Lemieux, L., & Willey, K. (2016). How immersion in nature impacts the human spirit: A phenomenological study. St. Catherine University.

Shear, M. K. (2012). Grief and mourning gone awry: pathway and course of complicated grief. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, 14(2), 119–128.

Winerman, L. (2019). Mourning the land. American Psychological Association, 50(5).

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