Doom and Bloom: The Growing Millennial Obsession with Houseplants
Young adults are turning into plant parents as a manifestation of deep mourning over the planet they are inheriting
The droughts were so bad that Western Australia’s vast Wheatbelt region was blowing away. This wasn’t a fluke; it was the new norm. By 2014, the area’s winter rainfall had declined 20% since the 1960s. Dry periods had grown increasingly severe — the winds, unrelenting and erosive.
Neville Ellis, a local environmental psychology researcher, set out to gauge the changing climate’s impact on regional farmers, criss-crossing withered croplands with parched terrain billowing underfoot. As expected, he found landowners experiencing total financial panic. He also encountered a far deeper sorrow. Separate from the hardship of economic losses, farmers were reporting similar patterns of what could only be described as ecological mourning: intense sadness and a lost sense of place in their ruined surroundings. A deterioration of personal identity, and a shattered illusion of safety.
Multiple subjects told Ellis that the climate upheaval in their midst felt “worse than the death of a family member.” Another said it “almost physically hurts.”
“There’s nothing [that] makes me more depressed than to see the place — dust lifting off the place. It’s really terrible,” one farmer told him, an account that ultimately appeared in a 2017 collection of case studies published in Social Science & Medicine.
Ellis, now a research fellow at The University of Western Australia’s School of Agriculture and Environment, observed the emergence of a clear coping mechanism, as well. While some farmers seemed to shut down emotionally in the face of ecological grief, others busied themselves in it — and continue to do so — by cultivating plant life on a smaller, scrappier, symbolic scale: through gardening.
“Some Australian family farmers go to great lengths to maintain a green space around their home, even when the rest of their farmland has dried up,” Ellis, who has since teamed with researchers in Canada and elsewhere to chart the manifestations of ecological grief, tells Elemental. “For these farmers, the garden provides an oasis…