Home to us all – How connecting with nature helps us care for ourselves and the earth
Authors: Cheryl Charles, Rosalie Chapple, Karen Keenleyside et al.
Published by the Children & Nature Network in partnership with the IUCN Commission for Education and Communication
This review paper reports on a 2018 research synthesis of the growing body of evidence that people’s relationship with nature profoundly influences their behaviour toward the Earth. The findings are consistent with tenets of applied conservation psychology; that is, human behaviours and decisions are primary determinants of conservation success and failure. At a time when the world is confronted with growing environmental threats, better understanding the critical connection between people and nature is key to informing effective decision making and stimulating positive action in terms of conservation practice. This report was born from the questions, “What leads people to take action to care for the environment, the Earth that supports us all? What does the evidence say—from Indigenous and local wisdom to peer-reviewed scholarly studies?”
The research synthesis is based on theory, research and practice derived from a current review of literature including peer-reviewed publications, books and articles. It is not a systematic review of academic research and it does not take a hypothesis-testing approach. Rather, it collates key findings from a range of sources to create a synthesis of the state of knowledge relevant to understanding whether and how our relationship with nature influences our tendency to care for the Earth.
The review reveals several important findings: positive, direct experiences in nature during childhood and role models of care for nature by someone close to the child are the two factors that contribute most to individuals choosing to take action to benefit the environment as adults; people who develop a sense of place are more likely to want to protect it and to oppose the degradation of the environment; knowledge is very important but is not enough on its own to cause people to take action to benefit nature; meaningful, positive experience in nature is a powerful way of developing a connection with, or love of, nature that can in turn guide people toward care for the Earth; and, connectedness to nature is a strong predictor of positive conservation behaviour.
We derive ten guiding principles for creating a culture of conservation and care for the Earth, and conclude that while there are gaps in the research, the findings consistently demonstrate that meaningful, age-appropriate nature-based experiences contribute to a commitment and actions to care for the Earth. The review identifies research gaps where additional, well-designed and rigorous research can further inform both policy and practice. Key recommendations for policy and practice are presented, and for overcoming barriers to nature connection.
Home to Us All is unique in that it synthesises evidence derived from Indigenous and ancient wisdom, contemporary science, academic research, and current practice to reveal several important findings:
- Positive, direct experiences in nature during childhood and role models of care for nature by someone close to the child are the two factors that contribute most to individuals choosing to take action to benefit the environment as adults.
- People of all ages who participate in nature-based activities tend to be happier and healthier than those who do not.
- Social experiences in nature foster connectedness to each other and to nature.
- People who develop a sense of place are more likely to want to protect it and to oppose the degradation of the environment.
- Knowledge is very important but is not enough on its own to cause people to take action to benefit nature.
- Meaningful, positive experience in nature is a powerful way of developing a connection with, or love of, nature that can in turn guide people toward care for the Earth.
- Connectedness to nature is a strong predictor of positive conservation behaviour. By establishing a focus on fostering human connectedness with nature in policies and practices across diverse sectors, we have the opportunity to improve the human condition and that of the Earth itself.
- Initiatives that embody the following characteristics are particularly encouraged:
- Education and child care policies that enable time outdoors in nature and experiential learning about nature in early childhood and throughout life;
- Health and elder care policies that deliver the health benefits of contact with nature for all people of all ages;
- Community planning and urban development policies to create nature-rich cities that include parks and protected areas for the benefit of people and nature;
- Parks, outdoor recreation, and tourism policies that encourage family-friendly experiences, interpretive programmes, and outdoor, nature-based and experiential education;
- Arts and culture policies that promote the integration of culture and nature to develop a sense of oneness with nature while celebrating stories of connection and healing;
- Policies that encourage private sector investment in environmentally sustainable programming, infrastructure, and innovative solutions, such as technology, for connecting people with nature; and
- Policies that call for biodiversity conservation organisations to work across sectors so that all people, equitably and inclusively, experience the diverse benefits of connectedness with nature.
Additional guidelines for practice:
- Use a variety of tools, including social media and community-based social marketing, to encourage those with high levels of connectedness to communicate and share their values and experiences with others, including children and youth, and to engage those not yet connected with nature.
- Allow for immersion and frequent experiences of caring for nature to encourage the growth of perceived efficacy, knowledge, connection and commitment over time.
- Prepare people of all ages to transfer their learnings about responsible environmental practices from their experiences in what may be distant settings, such as field trips and wilderness adventures, to their everyday lives at home.
- Recognise that people hold a variety of values related to nature, so design and implement policies and practices that will resonate with those values.
- Help people do what they already do, such as having a social gathering or a meeting, but do it outdoors.
- Make it easy, make it social, and make it fun for people to connect with nature.
Connecting with nature helps to bring us all peace and good health, and provides the foundation for resilient, healthy ecosystems, communities, and economies to thrive and remain for generations and generations to come.
This report was initiated as a part of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s #NatureForAll initiative. Its overall purpose is to advance #NatureForAll and inform policy development for biodiversity conservation and other sectors by synthesizing and making available the evidence that links experiences in nature with positive conservation attitudes and behaviours and the nurturing of sustainable development. It includes academic research and anecdotal information, as well as Indigenous and local knowledge. Not designed or intended to be a formal literature review, it is a compilation and synthesis of evidence to assist in advocating for the importance of connecting people with nature.
Summarising the evidence that links human-nature connectedness with conservation and sustainable development outcomes was a key focus. Where relevant, evidence related to health, education, and other benefits of connectedness with nature was referenced. This work was not intended to duplicate other syntheses, especially those related to health and education outcomes.