Not all people who have a strong connection to nature value the environment for ecological reasons.
Photo by Zoe Schaeffer on Unsplash.

By Nicola J. Sockhill, Angela J. Dean, Rachel R. Y. Oh, and Richard A. Fuller.

This Plain Language Summary is published ahead of the article discussed; check back soon for a link to the full paper.

The biodiversity crisis can only be reversed through changed human behaviour. Whether a person expresses pro-environmental behaviours depends on their values and attitudes. Values towards nature range from anthropocentric (valuing nature for the benefit it provides to humans) to ecocentric (valuing nature for its intrinsic worth). Attitudes towards nature can also be represented by a stronger or weaker connection to nature.

One might assume that only people with ecocentric values have a strong connection to nature, and those with anthropocentric values have a weaker connection. One might also assume that those with a strong connection to nature perform the vast majority of pro-environmental behaviours.

Studying 2,000 participants across Australia, we discovered that while people with ecocentric values are indeed generally more strongly connected to nature, there are many exceptions to this rule. In fact, a quarter of the participants had an anthropocentric value system but were also strongly connected to nature. Moreover, we found that these anthropocentric, strongly nature-connected people display similar patterns of pro-environmental behaviours to ecocentric people, and show strong levels of support for pro-biodiversity policies. These people could be highly influential in the fight against biodiversity loss, but there is a risk that they are overlooked by the conservation community. For example, people in this group tend to vote for right-leaning political parties, and they don’t necessarily see nature as having strong intrinsic worth.

Existing conservation messaging strategies primarily target the ecocentric group, assuming they are the people most likely to undertake pro-environmental behaviours. Where messaging does target the anthropocentric group, it may be created with the assumption that they aren’t connected to nature, or that they don’t already do pro-environmental behaviours. Both assumptions are wrong. This disconnect could lead to discord and lack of action.

We have shown that environmental concern is widespread among people with an anthropocentric value system, and that the constituency of people who could be encouraged to increase their level of pro-environmental behaviour is bigger than previously realised.