Ama Sarpomaa: Political Ecology and the Environmental Distress scale

The last month of my research project consisted of a series of listening, questioning, and digesting. Is there a foreseeable end to environmental degradation? Can one simultaneously navigate the slow deterioration of the ecosystem around them while also maintaining their psych-social health? The Environmental Distress Scale (EDS) measures what authors, Higginbotham et al have referred to as the “bio-psycho-social cost” of environmental degradation. The origins of the EDS can be traced back to its utilization during the analysis of Australia’s Upper Hunter Valley mining areas. The EDS uses a detailed survey to gauge the feelings and emotions residents have in relation to the state of the environment they live in. The  research conducted in a small Australian town, was an amalgamation of interviews, site visits, and readings, which determined that a majority of residents experienced solastalgia to some extent. They found that feelings of solastalgia were almost directly related to the visibility of environmental degradation. Thus, individuals that can see the world around them falling apart tend to experience solastalgia at a greater level. The EDS offers an explanation of one of the many factors that may trigger an individual’s movement from one place to another.

To truly understand the role of the EDS and solastalgia in environmental discourse, one needs to understand the significance of Political Ecology. Paul Robbins’ “The Hatchet and the Seed” emphasizes the indisputable need to approach environmental discourse from a political lens. Apoliticality limits one’s ability to see the broader, more systemic issues affecting environmental degradation. The existence of structural forces birthed by the infliction of colonialism on the Global South continues to negatively affect the lives of folks on the African continent. 

Moving forward, I hope to expand on my research this summer as I embark on my senior project and rationale. My plan for winter break is to visit and conduct research in the Savelugu village of Ghana under the guidance of a professor in Environmental Sciences from the University for Development Sciences. I hope to utilize the Environmental Distress Scale as well as the methods used by Higginbotham et al in Australia. This summer I have learned the importance of patience in regards to conducting research on a topic one has limited knowledge on. I have learned so much through my work and connections, and I look forward to continuing my exploration of North-South environmentally induced displacement in Ghana.

One page of the survey used by Higginbotham et al to measure the EDS
Creator of the word “solastalgia”, Glenn Albrecht giving a talk on the effects of Environmental degradation on an individual’s psyche