About the Author

Mahreen "Jai" Hamid Bashir is an Environmental Sustainability and Gender Studies major at the University of Utah. Her deep love and respect for the planet stems from her love of wildlife and exploring her backyard, the Wasatch Mountains, and her devotion to social justice and equality. She works abroad to raise awareness about the plight of feral dogs. Her other interests include playing guitar, reading classic literature, writing poetry, traveling and spending time with her best friend, a white husky named Sky Bear Severus.

HOW TO BECOME AN EARTHLING: We Need a Student & Nature Network

We need an outlet. No, not that kind.

At night after my cellphone is off, my computer is put to sleep, my electronic tablet is left to charge, I look at the stars and think about myself on this blue marble in the midst of billions and billions of other objects in space. Unplugged from the daily beeps, ticks, and notifications, I have a reconnection with my place; my alliance with the Earth and all of it’s wonders. All the wonderful wild places and open land with brilliant colors, the smell and feel and safety of trees and the respect and comfort of animals, a true feeling of purpose.

However, I question my place when I notice patches of the land of my childhood, both in Utah and abroad, turned into parking lots and mini-malls. When day after day I sit in class and become consumed by the endless numbers and statistics, and I feel helpless, the swarm of ideas and lack of action makes me feel frustrated and aggravated; it hurts my psyche, it hurts my inner self.

I know that many of my friends and family members feel this, a feeling I didn’t know how to describe until I came upon the term “solastalgia.”

Coined by philosopher Glenn Albercht, “solastalgia,” is a neologism that describes the innate human feeling of “psychic or existential distress caused by environmental change.” It combines the idea of “solace” and “algia” or pain, closely related to nostalgia, a longing for home. Albercht argues that humans long for their inherent home, in the heart of nature. When we see the destruction of “home,” we feel distressed. I perceive this pain in my fellow students.

Longing to belong, they find ways to escape: video games, television, violence, and depression. My tired generation, on prescription and recreational drugs, is Internet-dazed, media and fame crazed, depressed, idealistic, motivated, suppressed and lost. We are the byproducts of products. For us, the word “friend” is just a push of a button. Our lives revolve around things that must be plugged in. But we so badly need an outlet beyond the walls and bricks and artificial light. We need a way to express our solastalgia and our need for belonging, a connection beyond the plastics and concrete of our urban environment.

We need a new venue. We need a student nature network. We still have time and infinite capability. Let’s start talking, let’s start listening to one another, let’s start planning and let’s start doing.

As the inhabitants of a planet that is being destroyed, we need to become a united species. By bringing more nature into our lives, we can radically improve our schools, towns, cities, families and friendships. We can work less like machines – in sterile, gray windowless cubicles – and bring nature to where we work, receiving the physical and psychological benefits of the natural world. We have a place of belonging. We belong to the Earth. We must re-identify ourselves as Earthlings. We must do this not only for ourselves, but also for the wild forests, the streams, all the little creatures, the blue sky and our future children. We need an outlet.


Note from C&NN: We like Jai’s idea for a student nature network, and suggest that joining C&NN’s Natural Leaders Network may be a place for high school and college students to start. In conversation, Jai describes the need for college students to form discussion and action groups focused on experiencing the natural world — not only for outdoor sports or action on environmental issues — but for a reconnection with the Earth, self, and one another. We like that idea. What do you think?



Other reading:

APOCALYPSE NO: Something large and hopeful is forming out there. You’re already creating it.


Comments (56)

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  1. Yukuang Zhang says:

    Like the idea, involving student will make lots of changes to the society. Students could be influential in protecting our earth.

  2. Manny Kiesser says:


    Great article! Others have echoed some of my reactions to your words, so I’d like to respond the the C&NN note at the end and the idea of a Student Nature Network. I’ve been a part of C&NN since 2007 so have watched the movement evolve, to inlcude the birth of the Natural Leaders Network. I know that the Natural Leaders are being challenged to “upscale” their amazing work to reach a much larger audience. Maybe campus based chapters is a way to pursue that. I highly, highly recommend contacting them to explore the possibilities,as I think you and others like you could really help scale up the impact that Natural Leaders can have – and you can help inform where they go in the future and how they get there.

    Natural Leaders is not, however, designed for or chartered to work with high school students and younger. This is a gap that was identified at our recent Grassroots Leadership Conference, but one that may not be best solved throught the Natural Leaders sturcture right now. From my experience I see high schoolers and college students as very different constituencies. Although they can share the same goals, from a practical perspective they may require a different “infrastructure”, mostly due to limits on working with minors and the contraints of high school curricula and school-based clubs.

    I am involved in some work in Southern California to launch a Youth Stewardship Council that brings together high school students from several schools around the idea of service learning. Many schools have environmental science classes or clubs, most of which are looking to do some “hands-on” projects that have a real impact in their communities. These classes and clubs are an ideal nucleus of students who share your experiences and feelings – and a desire for a more promising future. We are in our first months of our first year so just getting started. Efforts like this that focus on the unique issues of working at the high school level can easily be paired to college level programs for mentoring and collaboration. Working side-by-side, but sometimes with different “logistics”, we can create a powerful force for change!

    Manny Kiesser manny.kiesser@yahoo.com

  3. Michelle Larson says:

    This is a post that hit home for me, much like everyone who has left a comment here. Redefining oneself as an Earthling is something that I have been trying to achieve, and it’s not easy. There are hurdles that I never thought I would have to jump, but the reward of reconnecting with the planet without technology and with my body, mind, and soul has been healing, liberating, and encouraging.

    Thanks for the inspiring article that has emboldened me to continue on my path and to create new ones for myself and the people, and the planet, that I love.

    Michelle Larson

  4. Hello everyone,

    I am still delighted and immensely humbled by the responses I have been receiving for this piece. Stephen Goldsmith and I are extremely excited about this project and decided to use Facebook as an ecotone in facilitating dialogue between our currently developing website and the social networking tools that are already in use. This is just a transitionary component, because we are still in the midst of creating this website as the best possible tool we are capable of.

    Feel free to use this as an open space to communicate any and all ideas about what you wish to see/happen/occur and present within the new website. Again, this is just a space for congregation and connection that is going to facilitate the website, not the website itself.


    Thank-you so much,
    Jai Hamid Bashir

  5. A truly great blog! We need a major return to nature, in our cities, towns, and rural areas. With the internet, even the most remote areas aren’t so remote anymore. Cities are shrinking and vast swaths of vacant land have the potential to be redeveloped into true green space (not manicured parks, but forests, urban farms, and more). Havens for biodiversity.

  6. Sarah Garner says:

    You are SO deep. Seriously. Keep up your awesome thoughts.

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