A friend of mine in Canada, the writer and green activist Silver Donald Cameron, introduced me recently to a poet in America named Robert Michael Pyle who is a lepidopterist – an expert on butterflies. In 1971 Pyle established the Xerxes Society for the preservation of invertebrate animals, animals without backbones, which constitute 95 percent of all animals. Think of spiders, lobsters, flies, ants, starfish, worms.
But I learned that Pyle is not a professor of biology at some great university. He’s a freelance writer of great power and range, according ng to Silver Donald Cameron, publishing numerous books and teaching writing.
“Pyle focuses on unfashionable things like caring for insects and damaged lands, and also on what he calls ‘the extinction of experience,'” Silver Donald Cameroan told me in a recent email, adding: “It’s about the shrinkage of the human spirit as we lose our direct connection with the natural world.”
After reading about Pyle’s life and work, I wondered to myself if a new term such as “Speciestalgia” might work as a new global coinage.
By the way, ”speciestude” could be interpreted as the negative attitude that many people hold in regard to the slow disappearance and extinction of so many species on Earth.
Quite the opposite, speciestalgia could be interpreted as the feeling that we are left with when we see so many species going extinct in the Anthrocene.
In 1976 Pyle wrote about the “extinction of experience,” a phrase he coined which “involves a cycle of disaffection and loss that begins with the extinction of hitherto common species, events, and flavors in our own immediate surrounds; this loss leads to ignorance of variety and nuance, thence to alienation, apathy, an absence of caring, and ultimately to further extinction, according to Silver Donald Cameron.
Pyle also told Silver Donald Cameron: “It’s not only the loss of entire species in a worldwide context that matters but it’s the loss of common things near us in what I called a ‘radius of reach’.”
Pyle added: “The radius of reach is much smaller for the poor, the very young, the ill, the disabled, than it is for the affluent who can go off to Antarctica or whatever. But for those whose lives are constrained, what surrounds them right here, that’s what they get and as the common elements become extinct in that environ then people become more isolated, more disinherited from their setting and less whole, and this breeds apathy, inactivity, leading of course to further losses. So it’s a cycle and a cycle I came to call the extinction of experience.”
So what is speciestalgia?
Perhaps we could call it the distress caused by species loss.
It describes the feeling of distress associated with the worldwide loss of many different kinds of species — large and small — due to environmental change, global warming, climate change, and industrial pollution.
A portmanteau of species and nostalgia, the new term speciestalgia speaks of the feeling we feel in the 21st century that the world around us has been changing for the worse, especially in terms of species loss.
No one has claimed coinage of the speciestalgia term and it does not need a name attached to it. It exists on its own, inspired by Bob Pyle’s terms of ”the extinction of experience” and “the radius of reach.”
In addition, so too does the new term “speciestude” (the negative attitude of “who the heck cares?” that so many of our fellow human beings have today about the fact that so many species are disappearing and going extinct worldwide) not have a name credited to it. It just started appearing on the internet recently, and no name is attached to its coining. The same holds true with this new term of “speciestalgia” which has no name credited to its coinage and just starting appearing organically on the internet in 2018.
Use the terms of speciestalgia and speciestude as you wish. If you are a writer, or a poet, or an academic or a news reporter or a literary critic, and if you are Margaret Atwood or Amitav Ghosh or Roy Scranton or Robert Macfarlane or Naomi Klein or Tim Morton or Amy Brady or James Bradley or Jeff VanderMeer, feel free to start using these new ecological terms as you see fit. Over time, these terms will create their own definitions and gain acceptance in the mass media.
Give it ten years or so. These things take time. But start now, if the terms appeal to you in your writing and thinking.