Environmental values dropped during COVID but nature helped

New research from The University of Western Australia found while our environmental values decreased during the COVID-19 pandemic, the impact was lessened if we had a connection with nature.

“While further research is required, our results go some way to support the proposition that connection with nature may even contribute to the formation of environmental values,”

Dr Joanne Sneddon

The impact of COVID-19 pandemic on environment values, published in Sustainability Science, sought to explore changes in Australians’ environmental values before and during the pandemic.

Researchers examined the relative importance of environmental values in Australian adults at five time points over four years, including a time of stability in 2017–2019 and one of ‘crisis’ during COVID in early and late 2020, finding environmental values were increasing before COVID but then decreased during the pandemic.

Earth in hearts

Associate Professor of Marketing at the UWA Business School and Deputy Director of the UWA Centre for Human and Cultural Values, Dr Joanne Sneddon, said ‘environmental values’ were defined as an appreciation of the natural environment and behaviours expressing this.

“The change in values that we found over a relatively short time contributes to the ongoing debate as to whether it’s possible to deliberately change people’s values to effect positive environmental outcomes,” said Dr Sneddon, lead author of the study.

“While our study didn’t directly manipulate events that led to value change, we were able to demonstrate how quickly and to what extent environmental values adapt to dramatic social-ecological changes.”

Importantly, Dr Sneddon said connection with nature was shown to act as a buffer to a decline in environmental values during the pandemic.

“While further research is required, our results go some way to support the proposition that connection with nature may even contribute to the formation of environmental values,” Dr Sneddon said.

“We already know that connection with nature can be increased by spending more time in the natural world, especially if people can create meaningful interactions by focusing on their sensory experiences.

“This may be particularly important in crises such as the recent pandemic, given the impact of restrictions – such as mask wearing, social distancing and confinement – on people’s ability to pursue social connections.

“Increasing connection with nature may also be an effective alternative means of increasing well-being during this and potential future crises.”

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