Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better (Albert Einstein)
Does swimming in the ocean, bird watching, camping on a mountain side or going for a bush walk affect our behaviour? Most definitely it does. But, as part of my MSc in Education for Sustainability, I wanted to delve into this further, to find out if experiences in nature can influence the development of pro-environmental behaviour. These are the things we do to reduce impacts upon or enhance the natural environment: participating in a beach-clean up to curtail coastal and marine pollution or driving a car less to lower carbon emissions. Could there be a connection between climbing trees and the likelihood that someone would consider taking action to reduce their ecological footprint?
It turns out that generally our behaviour is pretty complicated. Many people have made models attempting to understand why we behave as we do (I won’t bore you with them here). Our knowledge, skills, personality and internal motivations as well as situational aspects can all influence whether we might do something good for the environment. Sometimes, we know our behaviour might not be optimal for saving the planet, but we do it anyway. Personally, I know single-use plastic isn’t great, but avoidance is difficult in Thailand – check out this BBC Thai clip (spoken in English) for a glimpse of what I’m up against here. Other times we might not be aware of the possible impacts of our behaviour, so we don’t take any steps to change it.
My research found that spending time in nature can influence the development of pro-environmental behaviour, but usually indirectly. Remember when I talked about how frequent interactions with the outdoors, especially during childhood can help build connections with nature? Well, this helps foster respect and appreciation of the natural world, which when coupled with other factors can make us more likely to undertake an environmentally friendly action. These factors include having opportunities to directly interact with environmental issues and their impacts which can link to our emotions and to knowledge of environmental issues we’ve learnt previously. We know that emotions are a BIG driver of our behaviour and knowledge can be too.
I spent last weekend on a nearby beautiful island. Sea eagles and hornbills loitered around the coast, vibrant flowers framed the pathway to our bungalow and we woke to the peaceful sound of waves jostling over rocks. This paradise was contrasted by the vast quantities of trash littering some of the beaches. Seeing this in reality, linked to both my emotions (I felt sad) and knowledge (of pollution and its sources). It strengthened my resolve to help educate others on environmental problems such as this.
Time spent in nature is not time spent at all, in fact it is time gained. Time gained for the planet and also for us. Nature experiences are vital to help cultivate the kind of people that will nurture and nourish both the earth and themselves. How might you seek more time in nature for yourself and the planet?