It’s hard to deny that nature is in crisis and that humans have a big role to play in that. But I’m not here to spread more doom and gloom (just read the news if that’s what you’re after).
I’m here to explore why some people don’t seem to care about the climate crisis and the loss of wildlife and biodiversity, because that will also provide a solution.
There are several reasons why the climate crisis is the last thing on some people’s minds. They may not believe that there is a climate crisis or live in poverty. They might be too busy to care or find video games and make-up more interesting.
While some of these are fair reasons, they are only symptoms of the real reason: people are disconnected from nature.
This disconnect from nature is not only driving the destruction of the planet, but it’s also wreaking havoc on our health and well-being.
What is the nature connection?
Our connection to nature is deep-rooted and instinctive, according to the biophilia hypothesis. Humans evolved over tens of thousands of years in a direct relationship with nature, and this still shapes us today.
Even if you’re not aware of it, nature provides you with everything you need, from paper to petrol to the food you eat.
Ask people what they find most relaxing, and they’ll almost always choose something related to nature, such as looking at a natural landscape or listening to ocean waves.
In recent years, there’s been a boom in houseplants, and many people seem to be living in their own private jungles. People love their pets, rely on their emotional support animals, and visit zoos to get close to wildlife.
These are small examples, but they show that we seek nature, have a deep relationship with the natural world, and depend on it.
So, connection to nature refers to the awareness you have of the interconnectedness of humans and nature, as well as the health of your relationship with nature.
How do I know I’m connected to nature?
Most people who are connected to nature know they’re connected to nature.
If you experience a deep bond with nature, spend a lot of time outdoors, tend to plants in your home or garden, or are acutely concerned about the health of the planet, you probably feel very connected to nature.
If you’re disconnected, you probably don’t care about animals, plants, and trees; you have no interest in going to a forest or other natural environment; you find nature boring; and the conversation around climate change annoys you.
Ask yourself: Is nature separate from you? Is it a slave whose purpose is to serve humanity? Or do you see nature as an essential part of yourself? Do you see the interconnectedness of every living creature, every blade of grass, and every drop of water?
What influences connection to nature
It’s not entirely understood what influences nature’s connectedness, but a few factors include:
- Having spent a lot of time in nature as a child
- Regular contact with nature
- Age. For example, teenagers are the group least connected to nature, according to a study. Children and adults over 30 are more connected to nature.
- Intentional interactions or “immersive experiences” in nature increase a sense of connection more than passive interactions (e.g., walking through a forest without paying attention to your surroundings)
- Visiting rural or coastal locations as opposed to urban green spaces, according to one UK survey.
On the flip side, not spending time in nature, being overly materialistic, living in a city with no or little access to nature, passive interactions, and being a teenager are factors that drive nature disconnection.
Does nature’s connectedness influence pro-environmental and conservation behaviour?
It seems obvious that someone who feels connected to nature would be more motivated to act in pro-environmental ways and engage in conservation work.
And indeed, a survey of over 4000 people in England found the largest predictor of pro-nature conservation behaviour was nature connectedness. In other words, higher levels of nature connectedness lead to a higher commitment to pro-nature conservation behaviour.
So, the important question is, how can you increase nature connectedness and thereby increase pro-environmental interest and behaviour?
If you’re reading this article, chances are you care about the environment and are connected to nature. Maybe you’re looking for ways to increase your sense of connection, or you might be concerned about people in your life and society as a whole.
Here are a few ways to increase nature connectedness that you can do alone, with your friends, or with anyone you feel might need it.
Engage in immersive nature activities
This can mean walking or hiking; going for a swim in a lake, river, or ocean; or running across fields and rolling around on the earth. If you like adrenaline, you could try climbing, kayaking, rafting, canyoning, or surfing.
The important thing is to not just do the activity mindlessly. It’s about immersing yourself and being mindful of what you see, hear, smell, feel, and taste. You have to actively and consciously engage with the earth to rebuild your connection to it.
If you have a garden or balcony at home, you could plant a few things and see what happens. There’s great pleasure in seeing things grow and thrive. Houseplants are just as good and can be really fun and rewarding to tend to.
If you’ve never tried gardening, you might be surprised at how much you enjoy it. It’s therapeutic, and you learn new skills.
Appreciate nature’s beauty
Appreciating the beauty of something leads to valuing the object of beauty more.
So, take a moment each day to appreciate the beauty of nature as this will make you value it more. You can go outside, find a nice spot, and marvel at the scenery, really taking note of everything you perceive around you. If you can’t get outside, watch a nature documentary, listen to nature sounds, or look at awe-inspiring pictures.
Close your eyes and use your imagination to visualise walking through a dense forest or along an empty beach (or whatever natural scenery is most appealing to you). Visually imagine what you see around you and how you feel. You may even experience smells and sounds. Afterwards, write down what you love about nature and what you want to thank nature for providing.
Next, visualise that same scenery, but imagine that it has been devastated by floods, fires, deforestation, and plantations. Visually imagine the destruction and how that makes you feel. Use these negative emotions to motivate you to do something about it and think of ways we can work together.
Do something good for the environment
Of course, this can include making more pro-environmental choices such as recycling, flying less or not at all, saving electricity, driving only when necessary, eating less meat, and so forth. But you can also use your time to actually get involved.
There are lots of nature conservation groups in the UK (and other countries as well, I’m sure) with plenty of volunteering opportunities.
If you have a particular skill or interest, you could also get in touch with an environmental organisation and see whether they need any help.
There’s so much information out there – use your tech skills and find out how you can do something good for the environment.
Feeling connected to nature is associated with greater well-being, personal growth, and physical health. It’s good for your concentration, memory, and other cognitive functions, and it reduces anxiety and rumination.
When you’re connected to nature, you care about the health of the planet, are more likely to act in a way that is good for the environment, and engage in conservation work.
It’s surprisingly easy to connect with nature because we have an innate and deep connection to it. So, get out there and take your friends with you. Let’s make nature fun again!
Anna Drescher holds a master’s degree in psychology and mental health. She’s been working in the field for almost 10 years. You can connect with her on X @annadrescher_mh.