Colorado College students wrestle with eco-grief

By Mitchell Adams 

From being unable to play outside with friends as a child due to extreme heat in Botswana to losing the ability to jump off of a beloved pier on Lake Michigan because it became submerged due to lake rise, students at Colorado College have been grappling with the mental impacts of climate change. 

“As time progressed, it became much hotter earlier in the year. So that meant that we had to take a lot more precautions. My parents were a lot more cautious about me going out and playing with my friends,” Said Saigopal Rangaraj, a first-year Colorado College student who grew up in Botswana. 

Solastalgia, or eco-grief, is the idea that distress caused by the rapidly changing climate is affecting people psychologically.   

Today, environmental issues are at the forefront of many people’s minds, especially here on the Colorado College campus. Students often speak passionately about improving the environmental situation they have inherited due to the past generations’ reliance on fossil fuels. Students interviewed for this report had not previously heard of the term, but were aware of the gloomy mental feelings associated with the climate crisis.

Rangaraj, who is from Botswana and has lived in India, said that when discussing eco-grief, it is important to examine what situations people are in. “Climate grief is accompanied by the ability to recover from whatever happens,” Rangaraj said. He used farmers as an example, noting how farmers in the United States have support from the government and have a better chance to bounce back from a climate-related issue, than farmers in Botswana, who don’t have these same safety nets. Seeing the vulnerability of day laborers in Botswana has given him a different relationship to climate grief.

“Being of a place of privilege, having the resources, having Air Conditioning and being in a position where my parents aren’t working on a daily wage and we have plumbing, that means that eco-grief may not exactly apply to us as a family, in Botswana at least,” Rangaraj said.

Grief means different things for different people, and someone can be grieving without suffering a direct loss. For Rangaraj, who has seen direct impacts of climate change on people in his community, grief is not a term to be taken lightly. 

CC first-year student Paige Simenz, has experienced some of these feelings of solastalgia, especially in relation to Lake Michigan, which laps upon her hometown, Milwaukee, Wisconson. 

“Places I went to as a child to have fun are lost,” Simenz said. 

Recently, she returned to a pier on Lake Michigan, where she remembers plunging into the chilly lake. She recalled being scared of the approximately two-foot drop as a child but was surprised to see the pier underwater when she returned in the summer of 2019. Changes like these have affected Simenz on a mental level, leaving her nostalgic for the locations she enjoyed so much, and anxious for what is to come.

 “My grandparents had a house on the beach in Sheboygan and they ended up selling it.” They were partially driven to sell because the lake kept getting higher and higher, Simenz said.

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