Dr M. Steven Moffice, MD, psychiatrist, writes in a letter to the New York Times regarding the Sunday Magazine's recent article about solastalgia by Daniel B. Smith:
Congratulations on the Sunday Magazine article "Is There An Ecological Unconscious?" on January 31 by Daniel B. Smith, which deepens our understanding of the psychological aspects of climate change. Not only does it discuss the new psychopathology, deemed solastalgia, but also gives pioneering examples of how the stress of climate change can be inrorporated into psychotherapy. Emphasizing the unconscious as an influence is crucial, since what is happening outside of the conscious awareness of the public and politicians, may be the most important reason for the slow pace of addressing the ecological problems.
However, as comprehensive as the article was, some unconscious aspects were ignored. One is the unconsious impact of such benign terminology as global warming and climate change. I would think we would get a greater psychological concern if we used terms like global boiling and climate instability.
In addition, the brief discussion of the historical connections to the concept of an ecological unconsious omits an important thread. Freud conceptualized a "death instinct", which may drive us toward death and malignant destructiveness. Though subsequently abandoned by him, we all might sense one of its remnants when we get suicidal feelings. Later, Eric Fromm updated this idea in his discussion of necrophilia, which is the opposite of biophilia, in his book "The Heart of Man: Its Genius for Good & Evil" (Harper & Row, 1964). Keeping these deep and disturbing unconscious tendencies in mind amy be helpful in reversing our course. Fromm suggests advocating a love of life as the antidote. As he closes his book: "Indeed, we must become aware in order to choose the good - ". Let us choose life.
H. Steven Moffic, M.D.
Professor of Psychiatry
Medical College of Wisconsin