The place of nature in our behaviour

Schoolchildren on the Guardianship scheme visit the Footprint Building at St Catherine's in Windermere, Cumbria.

We are at an ecological tipping point where studies suggest that once the earth will have warmed up by 4°C, negative retro controls will turn into positive ones (1). Meaning that certain ecosystems, such as forests which are absorbing most of our current CO2 emissions, will dry up and start liberating all the carbon sequestered, permafrost covering ancient vegetation in the Artic will melt, releasing methane into the atmosphere ( a greenhouse gas 10 times stronger that CO2) etc.


But how is our way of living changing our behaviour in an evolutionary term? Are we at a behavioural tipping point? Societal changes such as urbanization, are orienting human behaviour towards preferring immediate reward over long-term reward (2,3,4).

This is having an impact on issues we face today: resource exploitation, pollution and overpopulation (5,6).

The results of three studies comparing future discounting from people living in natural environments and urban environments all found that people placed more value on nature after being exposed to it (7).


What do we know?

Medical records show that stress and stress related diseases have highly increased amongst individuals from Western societies.

Research was carried out, by giving questionnaires (with questions about well-being and time spent in green spaces) to 953 individuals in 9 different cities in Sweden. Results, suggests that people that spent more time in green spaces suffered less from stress and stress related diseases (8).

Richard Louv the author of last child in the woods,  in which he links the absence of outdoor activities in children to many psychological disorders. He suggests that the increase in anxiety, depressions and attention-deficit disorders are related to low exposure to nature (9).

With the majority of people living in urbanized environments, there is less care for the natural world. As we are moving to a more technological society, children are growing up without even being given the opportunity to connect with the natural world. Time outdoors as greatly decreased.

As a result, we are raising a generation which is completely disconnected from nature: suffering from more mental diseases and valuing short term reward over long term compensation. The short term reward behaviour pattern is associated with unhealthy comportements such as substances abuse and obesity (5,6).


Why should we care?

We should care because it is scary to think that the next generation will care even less then we do for our Planet.

What can we do?

Increase outdoor activites. As parents, you need to control the time your children spend on screens and  teach them about how fun activites can be outdoors.


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  1. (retrieved the 14/06/2014)
  1. Dietz et al (2003). The struggle to govern the commons. Science302, 1907-1912.
  1. Swim et al (2009). Psychology and global climate change: addressing a multifaceted phenomenon and set of challenges.
  1. Wilson et al (2004). Do pretty women inspire men to discount the future? Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B 271, 177-179.
  1. Diamond JM (2005). Collapse: how societies choose to fail or survive. London, UK: Penguin
  1. Griskevicius V et al (2012). The evolutionary bases for sustainable behaviour: implications for marketing, policy, and social entrepreneurship. J Public Policy Mark 31, 115-128.
  1. Do natural landscapes reduce future discounting in humans ? J. Van der Wal et al , Proceeding of the Royal Society B (2013) 280
  1. Grahn et al (2003). Landscape planning and stress. Urban Forestry and Urban Greening 2, pp 1-18
  1. Louv, Richard. (2005) Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder(Paperback edition). Algonquin Books. 335pp.

Caroline Balloux

Caroline Balloux (BSc (Hons) Biology) is a collaborator to the website. 'In my search to find something that would interest me, I discovered Biology. Some of us try to find ourselves through that which we study. I personally feel that learning about the evolution of life has brought me answers on a philosophical level. Sitting behind the computer screen reading scientific research papers, I realized that outside the environmental problem is real. I now want to be involved and share the knowledge I got in order to inform people about the impact their consumption pattern is having.' Caroline is currently advancing her studies with a MSc in sustainable agriculture of smallholder farming systems in the tropics at the University of Copenhagen (Denmark) and is involved with permaculture facilities throughout France.

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