Becoming Landsick: Rethinking Sustainability in an Age of Continuous, Visible, and Irreversible Change

10 Pages Posted: 19 Jan 2016 Last revised: 22 Sep 2016

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: March 1, 2016


Most people know what it means to be seasick: When a land-dwelling human being goes out on the ocean — or out on a lake big enough to entertain significant water movement — the swell, waves, and constant motion induce nausea and vomiting. In brief — and to highlight the metaphorical import of seasickness for this Article — human beings tend not to react well to unintentional motion and change.

However, human beings are also adaptable. Stay out at sea long enough, and you develop “sea legs” — that is, an ability to cope with the constant change and motion that goes with being on a ship at sail. Moreover, human beings will often carry their sea legs back on shore with them, causing landsickness. Landsickness is the inverse of traditional motion sickness, where a human body that has become used to constant motion suddenly goes back to stable land. Most people readjust fairly quickly to being back on land, but in some people landsickness persists as a more-or-less permanent condition, an affliction known as Mal de Debarquement syndrome. Researchers believe that in patients suffering from this syndrome, “the brain may be stuck believing that the rocking motion experienced at sea is normal and that being on land is disorienting.”

In this climate change era, we all need to rewire ourselves into a metaphorical Mal de Debarquement syndrome — that is, into a state where we view constant change as the norm, not as an aberration to be ignored, avoided, or resisted. As a more positive formulation, we need to acquire our climate change sea legs — and this article argues, that means jettisoning mainstream notions of sustainability.

Keywords: climate change, seasickness, resilience thinking

Suggested Citation

Craig, Robin Kundis, Becoming Landsick: Rethinking Sustainability in an Age of Continuous, Visible, and Irreversible Change (March 1, 2016). 46:2 Environmental Law Reporter, 10141-10150 (February 2016), University of Utah College of Law Research Paper No. 153, Available at SSRN:

Robin Kundis Craig (Contact Author)

USC Gould School of Law ( email )

699 Exposition Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90089
United States

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