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The distance between humans and nature is growing

The human “experience of nature” is declining worldwide, according to a study led by the German Center for Integrative Biodiversity Research. The researchers set out to examine trends in the human-nature connection by conducting a systematic review. They found that there is very little empirical evidence available to study. 

“The ongoing destruction and degradation of natural systems, along with biodiversity loss, are largely attributable to human activities,” wrote the researchers. “In order to reduce human impacts on global biodiversity, there is growing interest in identifying the factors that increase people’s concern for environmental issues and promote pro-environmental behaviors.”

“Among these factors, ‘experience of nature’ (EoN) is known to affect human values and attitudes by reinforcing individuals’ psychological and emotional connection with nature. For instance, a high level of EoN in childhood strongly shapes people’s knowledge of, values toward, and emotional attachment to nature.”

The team wanted to analyze how much the distance between humans and nature has changed in the last decade. To investigate, the scientists measured the average distance from an individual’s home to the closest natural area with low human impact. 

The study revealed that humans currently live an average of 9.7 kilometers away from a natural area, which is seven percent farther away compared to the year 2000. The greatest average distance between humans and natural areas was found in Europe and East Asia, including 22 kilometers in Germany and 16 kilometers in France. “What is striking is that all other countries in the world are following a similar pattern,” said study first author Dr. Victor Cazalis.

The researchers determined that tree cover has declined in cities worldwide since 2000, especially in Central Africa and Southeast Asia. “This finding suggests that the possibility for the urban population to access green spaces is reducing as well,” said study co-author Dr Gladys Barragan-Jason. 

“Indeed, the study reveals that the destruction of natural areas combined with a strong increase in urban population is leading to a growing spatial distance between humans and nature, especially in Asia, Africa and South America.”

The experts also found that there has been a decline in visits to nature parks in the US and Japan, a decrease in camping activities in the US, and a decrease in the number of flower species observed by Japanese children. 

“The knowledge about these human-nature interactions is crucial, as they are key in the construction of our relationship with nature and our behaviors,” said study co-author Victor Cazalis. 

“We need to maintain a good connection with nature in order to enable the necessary societal transformations of the 21st century. Only then can humanity ‘live in harmony with nature by 2050’ as ambitioned by our governments through the Global Biodiversity Framework that is being discussed currently in the COP15 of the Convention on Biological Diversity.”

The study is published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

By Chrissy Sexton, Editor

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