Nature connection as a climate fix.

James Turner
Sep 24 · 6 min read
Leaving for a ‘Nature Drop’ from Middlesborough city centre

One of the most useful questions I’ve been asked recently is this:

When do you feel most in flow, and how do you recreate that state more often?

My work life is really fast and frenetic, jumping from one task to another with little time to arrive or contemplate.

I know this isn’t smart. I do my best work when I’m really immersed in a task at the upper limits of my ability, free from distractions and willing to ‘play’ in that zone (there’s lots of great writing on flow, but one highlight is the chapter about Thich Nhat Hanh in Tim Jackson’s recent Post Growth).

Calligraphy by Thich Nhat Hanh

The closest I got to a ‘flow state’ in the last month was researching the work of Professor Miles Richardson, who studies nature connectedness at the University of Derby.

Miles is one of those internet heroes who has his own site and writes 2000 words every week or so — easy to read and full of unabashed enthusiasm for the discoveries he’s making.

His team is coming up with so many ideas that deserve a bigger audience, and I’m wondering if Glimpse could be one of the organisations to do help do that.

Here’s a very quick rundown of what he’s talking about:

  • Nature connectedness can be measured scientifically. You don’t need to know the details, but the boffins have worked out how to measure this. It judges the extent to which you have a meaningful relationship with nature, present in your life on a regular basis.
  • Your level of nature connectedness is directly linked to your likelihood of doing good stuff like recycling, eating less meat, and even joining a local beach cleanup. Makes sense, but still worth reflecting on.
  • You don’t need to live in the countryside to be connected to nature. You can connect in dense urban areas, and even indoors during lockdown.
  • Even more interestingly, Miles and his team found that your level of nature connectedness correlates four times more strongly with your sense of self esteem than socio-economic status. To put it more simply, being connected to nature is better at helping you feel good about yourself than money or fame.
  • Finally, he’s starting to look at the links between nature connectedness and your willingness to accept new laws and rules that help tackle climate change - reducing meat consumption, frequent flier levies, banning petrol cars etc. This is the hard stuff that Joss Garman talks about as a critical next phase in the climate story.

We always need to be careful about seeing new strategies as a silver bullet, but I’ve been reading this stuff with real excitement.

I’m wondering if this could be a novel approach for climate and nature campaigning: a less literal, more systemic intervention which works at the level of values and emotion rather than facts and rational appeals.

If nature connection is proven to make you more likely to support the policies and changes needed to reach net zero and protect biodiversity, why aren’t we trying this at scale?

Stephan Lux / Superflux: Invocation For Hope

Miles has an excellent paper on what this could look like in policy terms — from funding for new arts and culture festivals to urban installations to encourage more people to stop and notice nature more often. These are lacking a bit of detail, but it’s not really the Professor’s job to flesh them out — it’s a gauntlet for people in the creative industries to pick up.

Imagine a world that was designed to help us notice nature more, to build an emotional attachment to the living world that sustained and guided us through the 21st century. What would that look like — not just in forests, but in schools and cities, on sidewalks and billboards?

The Citizens Advertising Takeover Service, Glimpse, 2016

“Our proposal for a way out of this dilemma is to completely change the way we view ourselves and our relationship with nature. Instead of seeing humans as separate from nature, we need to understand that we are a part of it.

By radically changing our attitude toward natural systems and the ecology of our planet, we have the best chance to reverse the damage we’ve done. How might we — humans and non-humans — truly engage in collaborative living?”

Anab Jain, co-founder Superflux

I’ve been thinking about the concept of ‘creative bandwidth’ recently — how only a fraction of creative people get the chance to obsess over genuinely useful stuff like how to encourage nature connectedness in their work. It’s something I’m lucky enough to do all the time, but most creatives are using that bandwidth to think about snappy slogans for KFC or puns for EasyJet.

What would our world look like if 20% of professional creatives were eating, sleeping and dreaming about how to foster nature connectedness?

How could we make this happen?

Wrush Media / Alamy

One recurring doubt I have is that nature connection is too indirect and doesn’t challenge power urgently enough. While Insulate Britain is stopping traffic on the M25, we’re helping more people notice their local hedgerow. But I’m becoming more comfortable with this tension — because I instinctively feel that nature connectedness is profound and underexplored as a tactic, and because it’s something I know Glimpse can contribute to well.

Above all, we need a range of tactics to be happening at the same time. Joanna Macey talks about what she calls holding actions, shifts in consciousness and life sustaining practises. All are needed, but too often our movement seems to celebrate and prioritise the holding actions above the rest.

Joanna Macey: The Great Turning

One of the things we’re hoping to do in the next year is to focus things at Glimpse. For us to get really good at a couple of things and find flow inside that space. I’m wondering if nature connectedness could be one of these — bringing modern, professional creativity to bear on a single, carefully chosen behavioural shift. It would help us to stand out in a very crowded field of climate and nature campaigns which are mostly focused on quite literal policy interventions (“tweet at Rishi Sunak etc.).

It’s also something that makes sense to people outside our bubble, and while lots of organisations are working on nature, very few seem to work on deepening people’s connection to the natural world as a considered, systems level intervention (with brilliant exceptions like the Oak Project).

In fact, I sometimes wonder if the big nature conservation organisations are missing a trick here — dismissing nature connectedness as separate from the political advocacy work that they see as the ‘real business’ of change. What if the greatest power they have is in sparking and maintaining a deep sense of nature connectedness amongst their members and new audiences, which prepares the soil for an entirely new political economy? How can we reflect this shift in British values to those in power, in real time? I don’t know exactly what this looks like, but it feels like there’s an opportunity for a new approach here.

In our case, telling people that Glimpse uses world-class creativity to help more people discover a closer connection with nature feels right. It won’t be the only thing we work on (like supporting brilliant community climate projects around the UK with the National Lottery), but I think it can inform this work too. Nature connection isn’t just trees and sky — it’s about finding a deeper relationship with the land, people and communities and using this as a kind of guiding star in how you live your life.

We’re working on a brand new project in this space at the moment — I’ll write more about that soon.

The Glimpse Collective

“What we dream of is already present in the world.”