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Connectedness as a Core Conservation Concern: An Interdisciplinary Review of Theory and a Call for Practice

ABSTRACT

Calls for society to ‘reconnect with nature’ are commonplace in the scientific literature and popular environmental discourse. However, the expression is often used haphazardly without the clarity of the process involved, the practical outcomes desired, and/or the relevance to conservation. This interdisciplinary review finds that the Western disconnect from nature is central to the convergent social-ecological crises and is primarily a problem in consciousness. Connectedness with nature (CWN) is therefore defined as a stable state of consciousness comprising symbiotic cognitive, affective, and experiential traits that reflect, through consistent attitudes and behaviors, a sustained awareness of the interrelatedness between one’s self and the rest of nature. CWN sits on a continuum comprising information about nature and experience in nature but is differentiated as a more holistic process for realizing transformative outcomes that serve oneself and their community. Various instruments are available to measure the CWN construct, although their cross-cultural transferability is unclear. Multiple benefits of CWN linked to physical and psychological well-being have been identified and CWN is distinct in that it supports happiness and more purposeful, fulfilling, and meaningful lives. CWN has been found as a reliable predictor and motivation for environmentally responsible behavior (ERB). CWN may benefit conservation discourse by providing: a more compelling language; hope and buffering frustration in the face of environmental crises; a more enduring motivation for ERB; and an accepted avenue for tackling ‘fuzzy’ concepts often avoided in conservation. Bolstered by interdisciplinary collaborations and action-oriented education, CWN presents itself as a radical but necessary prerequisite for realizing desired conservation and environmental behavior outcomes.