Explore Your Innerverse
How Psychology Can Help to Preserve Our Planet

How Psychology Can Help to Preserve Our Planet

No matter what race we are, what country we live in, or what nationality we identify as, one inescapable commonality that we all share is that we live in this beautiful blue marble.

How humans are causing life to vanish

At this point, I’m sure you’re aware or heard of climate change and how it’s affecting our planet. But do you know just how badly we have been affecting life on Earth?

Since the 1970s, human influence on the natural environment around us has skyrocketed, as we used more natural resources and fossil fuels throughout our daily lives.

In just the last 50 years alone, we can see that air and water quality have reduced, crops have fewer pollinators, and soils are depleting ever so rapidly.

A diagram showing the risk of extinction in different groups
Image via Natural History Museum

It’s actually much more severe than imagined, as a group of leading scientists has discovered in their research that human-driven actions have been impacting nature and the Earth much more negatively than we know it.

According to a series of studies compiled by 145 expert authors from 50 different countries, with inputs from 310 contributing authors, humanity has been destroying the very fabric of life itself. The actions of humans have altered at least 75% of land and about 66% of marine environments.

jelly fish in water

At this point, our ecosystems have been affected so much that it is estimated over one million animals and plants are currently threatened with extinction. These threats include more than 40% of amphibian species, 33% of reef-forming corals, and a third of all marine mammals. This number is extremely worrisome as this is the highest reduction ever recorded in human history.

The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.

— Sir Robert Watson, Influential Environmental Scientist

How nature affects the mind & mood

For those living in concrete cities, it can be tricky to really know or feel how all of this directly impacts you.

But beyond the obvious fact that the Earth is where we live, the crumbling of our natural environment can be highly detrimental to our psychological well-being as a whole.

green tree near glass window

Natural spaces play a huge part in our mental and physical state. The biophilia hypothesis is the belief that all humans have the tendency to desire to be closer to nature and life itself, as it positively affects our mood. There is a myriad of real-life health benefits that can come from being surrounded by nature.

As biophilic design shows us, just from being in natural green spaces, we can have lower blood pressure, lower heart rate, and improved memory. Moreover, being in the presence of water alone can have huge positive effects on your mental state, as it has proven to induce a feeling of tranquillity. Biophilic design principles advocate that spaces that allow for greater airflow also provide an increased sense of focus and performance.

In one study, researchers found that window views of nature in a home or an office led to higher degrees of association with life satisfaction. Moreover, kids that grew up in environments with more nature (trees, grass, and fields) — compared to those who had only views of concrete all their life — tended to perform much better on tasks that involved working memory, concentration, and impulse inhibition.

two black suede armchairs during daytime

What motivates concern for the environment

So with all that being said, how can psychology help to preserve our planet better?

Well for one, understanding environmental behaviours helps to get a better grasp of the types of actions that need to be mitigated and altered.

It’s through psychology, that we can come to explore and discover what people’s beliefs and behaviours are like, as generally speaking, we respond to global changes based on these very things. Additionally, the values and cultures we hold can play a large part into how we feel the environment impacts us.

People that are less likely to believe in climate change, adopt pro-environmental behaviors, or report ecological grief are assumed to have different psycho-cultural orientations, and do not perceive changes in environmental condition or any impact upon themselves

Frontiers in Psychology

In conservation psychology — the study of people’s attitudes and beliefs toward nature — researchers found six ways to motivate people to take action for the environment.

  1. Provide people with the right knowledge
  2. Help people access information better
  3. Leverage leaders
  4. Make actions easy and enjoyable
  5. Permit people to participate
  6. Take things one step at a time

Hit closer to home

Another reason why people aren’t as concerned with environmental issues, regardless of how pressing they may be, is because oftentimes, the communication of these issues is just off. Summaries and warnings about climate change tend to be framed as a distant risks, too abstract for the busy mind.

Sabrina Helm, an Associate Professor of Consumer Science at the University of Arizona, found that issues of environmental risks don’t really hit close to home for many of us. In fact, the majority of people tend to have more egoistic or social-altruistic concerns, meaning that we feel concerned for ourselves or other people.

landscape photography of mountain hit by sun rays

It’s only when people have biospheric concerns (or a concern for nature), where they take a stand and perform positive environmental behaviours. But other than that, the people with the former two concerns perceive global environmental risks to have less impact and threat toward them.

It’s for this very reason, that policymakers and influencers alike need to begin looking at smarter ways to link these very real environmental threats to something much closer — whether it’s illustrating how it affects their health, security, or well-being for the future.

In the end, the reality is that most people — unfortunately so — show little concern for the environment. This is why to do our part for the very Earth we live on, we need to begin taking a more empathetic approach to understanding people’s values first.

It’s only by doing that does the possibility to express and engage a person’s deep behaviors begins, and through that, we can hopefully change this beautiful green planet we call home.