Academic journal article Environmental Values

Human-Nature Relationships and Linkages to Environmental Behaviour

Academic journal article Environmental Values

Human-Nature Relationships and Linkages to Environmental Behaviour

Article excerpt


While many theories exist to explain the complexity of environmental behaviour, the role of individuals' relationship with nature has not yet been fully clarified. This paper attempts to operationalise human-nature relationships. It expands upon a scale assessed by an iterative process of mixed methods in the US and Europe. This scale is then used to assess individuals' relationship with nature, and whether such relationships correlate with environmental behaviour. The value scale of Schwartz's Theory of Basic Values is used to validate the results. The results verify that people hold multiple human-nature relationships, confirm strong correlations between human-nature relationships and values, and reveal that individuals' behaviour is connected to the relationship they have with nature.


Human-nature relationship scale, Schwartz Value Scale, student survey, Austria, Utah


This paper shows that considering the relationship humans have with nature helps explain environmental behaviour. In addition to many other aspects of environmental communication and governance, understanding the umbrella concept of human-nature relationships (herein abbreviated as 'HNR') helps us to recognise 'hierarchical views toward nature as well as their effects on behaviours' (Milfont et al., 2013: 10).

Serious environmental problems, such as pollution, scarcity of drinking water, overexploitation of resources and the loss of biodiversity, are often a consequence of human activities (Vlek and Steg, 2007; Klockner, 2013; Steg et al., 2014). Steg et al. (2014: 106) see this as an opportunity because it gives people the chance to manage these problems 'by changing the relevant behaviours so as to promote environmental quality'. As easy as that may sound, it is a tremendous challenge to change individual behaviours and stimulate a longlasting transition towards rebalancing the relationship of society and nature. Human behaviour is characterised by a multiplicity of variables, circumstances and interactions with other humans (Teixeira, 2007). This implies that comprehending environmental behaviour is anything but simple, and predicting it might even be impossible.

Three major frameworks tackle the challenge to link the two dimensions of human behaviour and nature at the societal level. Today's most frequently discussed framework is that of ecosystem services ('ES') (MEA, 2005; Sukhdev et al., 2010). It bridges the human and natural systems, highlighting the importance of ecosystems and biodiversity for human wellbeing and utility (Raymond et al., 2013). A cause-effect approach is applied by the European Environment Agency in the DPSIR framework (driving forces--pressures--state--impact--responses), which analyses how social and economic developments exert pressure on the environment (Agu, 2007). More complexity is introduced by Ostrom's (2009) social-ecological-systems ('SES') framework, which conceptualises human resource uses as embedded in complex social-ecological systems with tiered subsystems and variables interacting on multiple levels.

However we capture the relationship between humans and nature, each approach has its strengths and limitations. Scholars critically reviewing sustainability concepts (e.g. Benson and Craig, 2014; Casado-Asensio and Steurer, 2014) argue that something is missing, as sustainability is still not a social norm. People in Western societies know that they would be better off if they protected their common environment--but they are stuck in a social dilemma (Ostrom, 1999; Kamenica, 2012). Because of this deadlock, we are increasingly recognising the importance of insights into social aspects of transformative processes towards sustainability (Sovacool et al., 2015). Gosling and Williams (2010) see peoples' individual relationship with nature as relevant to sustainability efforts and policies. Along these lines, we want to contribute to an intellectual discourse about human-nature relationships, and support initiatives that aim to stimulate a long-lasting transition towards rebalancing the relationship of humans and nature. …

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