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  • "You can never replace the caribou":Inuit Experiences of Ecological Grief from Caribou Declines
  • Ashlee Cunsolo (bio), David Borish (bio), Sherilee L. Harper (bio), Jamie Snook (bio), Inez Shiwak (bio), Michele Wood (bio), and The Herd Caribou Project Steering Committee (bio)


We are living in a time characterized by ongoing and accelerating ecological loss. Indeed, with recent reports from the United Nations Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystems Services (IPBES) Global Assessment (2019) identifying unprecedented species declines and accelerating extinction rates with 1 million species threatened with extinction, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C (2018) calling for "rapid, far-reaching, and unprecedented changes" in society, it is clear that now is a time of great environmental upheaval, loss, and change, with resulting effects on human emotions and mental wellness ("Focus on climate change and mental health," 2018).

The already-present, worsening, and projected environmental stressors and experiences (IPBES, 2019; IPCC, 2018, 2019) are creating the need for new understandings and new [End Page 31] lexicons—understandings and lexicons that reflect the full range of our emotional relationships with the land, ecosystems, and the more-than-human worlds. With eco-emotional terms such as solastalgia (Albrecht et al., 2007), biophilia (Fromm, 1973; Wilson, 1984), topophilia (Tuan, 1974), and other types of psychoterratic syndromes (Albrecht, 2019) entering both the research and mainstream lexicons, it is clear that new concepts are needed to identify, understand, and communicate how the loss of environments, ecosystems, and species globally is associated with emotional pain, psychological distress, and anxiety (Albrecht, 2019; Cunsolo & Ellis, 2018; Cunsolo & Landman, 2017a).

One such concept that is gaining continued traction in research, professional practice, policy, and general public interest is "ecological grief" (Cunsolo & Ellis, 2018; cf. Albrecht, 2019; Clayton, Manning, Krygsman, et al., 2017; Cunsolo & Landman, 2017a; Minor et al., 2019). Ecological grief, or the "grief felt in relation to experienced or anticipated ecological losses, including the loss of species, ecosystems and meaningful landscapes due to acute or chronic environmental change" (Cunsolo & Ellis, 2018, p. 275), is a natural human response to ecological degradation or destruction.

Global research has documented ecological grief related to: warming temperatures and resulting sea ice loss and environmental alterations in Northern and Arctic regions (Clayton et al., 2017; Cunsolo Willox et al., 2012; Cunsolo Willox, Harper, Edge, et al., 2013a; Cunsolo Willox, Harper, Ford, et al., 2013b; Durkalec, Furgal, Skinner, & Sheldon, 2015; Minor et al., 2019); long-term drought and agricultural land loss in the Wheatbelt in Australia (Ellis & Albrecht, 2017); forest fires, and the resulting destruction of home and place, often leading to displacement in the Northwest Territories, Canada (Dodd et al., 2018); the decline of sparrows in urban landscapes in the United Kingdom (Whale & Ginn, 2017); the disappearance of culturally-significant plants in ecosystems in Australia (Ryan, 2017); and the loss and degradation of wild soundscapes (Krause, 2017). Ecological grief has also been documented in scientists and ecologists who research climate change and biodiversity loss (Clayton, 2018), as well as within stories and testimonies from the general public (cf. Clayton, Manning, Krygsman, & Speiser, 2017; "Is this how you feel," n.d.). [End Page 32]

Like other forms of grief, research, published literature, and testimonies of lived experience indicate that ecological grief, if left undiscussed and unsupported, has the potential to cause psychological disruptions and disturbances in one's life and activities. Authors such as Judith Butler (2004) and Ashlee Cunsolo and Karen Landman (2017a), however, have identified the ways in which ecological grief—and what we choose to grieve—illuminates not only our fundamental dependency on healthy and thriving ecosystems, but also the political and ethical responsibilities we have to these systems, and to each other, and opportunities for action and healing. Butler (2004), for example, argues that grief and mourning carry a "we-creating" capacity, at once exposing our deep and often-unacknowledged connections to others (human or non-human) and reminding ourselves of our responsibilities to mitigate human-induced environmental destruction and degradation.

Building on this diverse and growing body of literature on ecological grief and loss, this article characterizes the lived experiences of loss and grief experienced by...