Research Summary

Transformation of experience: Toward a new relationship with nature

New ways of considering nature and human experiences of nature could more effectively address the biodiversity crisis

Conservation Letters

This essay addresses two primary inter-related concerns: the “extinction of nature experience” and the ever-increasing loss of biodiversity. The discussion is framed around the need to reexamine the way we think about nature and the human experience of nature (EoN). “Nature,” as we generally use the term, refers to natural phenomena of the physical world which doesn’t necessarily include humans and the way in which we construct the world. A broader and more flexible view of nature considers the degree and impact of human control over non-human species and ecosystems.

This broader view of nature calls for a re-visioning of the human-nature relationship and a shift in our conservation efforts. Past efforts have often emphasized increased opportunities for individual contact with nature. These efforts were based on the understanding that more contact with nature would lead to deeper concerns about conserving nature. This approach has not been especially effective.

In this essay, the authors call for a recognition of the complex and social dimensions of the human experience of nature (EoN). They emphasize the fact that such experiences don’t exist in isolation, that there are social precursors and consequences of our EoN. Social precursors include certain economic and demographic indicators making access to nature easier or more difficult. Social precursors can also suggest to people that they “belong” or “don’t belong” in certain natural settings.

People who think of nature as separate from their daily lives tend to feel that caring for nature is neither their responsibility nor within their power. The authors thus call for policies that acknowledge and accept a diversity of culturally-situated EoN, including negative EoN. They also recommend that programs promoting nature experiences focus on integrating those experiences with people’s daily lives. With this approach, society, nature, and the individual would be experienced as interconnected and not as independent entities. This, in turn, could lead to more effective ways of addressing the biodiversity crisis.