- Despite some successful conservation stories, biodiversity continues to be lost around the world. Climate change accentuates the ecological crisis and demands not only coordinated action by individuals and collectives, but also a re-examination (and re-imagination) of our relationship with nature. As part of the basis for such a re-examination, further progress is needed to elucidate the determinants of environmentally conscious behavior, from the origins of biophilia to the barriers that lie between intention to live sustainably and success in doing so.
In this dissertation, I develop a new tool to investigate the origins of human-nature relationships and, through two exploratory studies, I attempt to advance our understanding of the determinants of pro-environmental behaviors. Lastly, and perhaps most important of all, I discuss the role of individual environmental behaviors vs behaviors that promote systemic change.
In the first study, I developed, with my collaborators, a new multifaceted scale to measure the contribution of key childhood experiences to the development of love and care for nature. We built on the concept of Significant Life Experiences (SLEs), designing what we have called the Roots of Biophilia and Interest in Nature (ROBIN) scale, which has shown good psychometric properties and proven to be a reliable and valid measure. We confirmed the existence of six roots of biophilia and discuss the importance of fomenting childhood experiences that instill love for nature in future generations.
In the second study, we investigated the carbon footprint of West Coast Environmentalists. We selected this group as being likely to have both the knowledge and the intention to behave sustainably, but we confirmed findings from elsewhere that even environmentalists themselves find it difficult to ‘walk the talk’. We compared their carbon footprint with those of other residents and offer a preliminary account of the barriers environmentalists perceived to adopting pro-environmental behaviors. We found no correlation between intentions and actual behaviors in either group. As expected, the most relevant barriers identified by environmentalists varied across domains, yet perceived lack of choice and complicated logistics were notably important. We discuss how barriers may be overcome and the need for further studies on barriers to inform specific climate policies and interventions.
In the third study we continued to investigate differences between West Coast environmentalists and other residents. In this study we shift the focus from individual emissions to assess how both groups differ in their engagement in behaviors oriented more towards systemic change than personal emissions reductions. Our results showed that environmentalists engaged significantly more in eight different types of pro-environmental behaviors, from protesting to donating money to environmental NGOs. They were also significantly more likely to support systemic changes via climate policies and regulations, and they ascribed significantly more responsibility for climate action to different actors in society, from citizens to governments. We discuss the focus on individual behaviors in the climate crisis, and the importance of pursuing systemic change through engaged citizenship.
Our results contribute to the growing body of work in the field of environmental psychology on human-nature relationships and environmental behavior. The ROBIN scale, a quantitative tool to examine the roots of biophilia and interest in nature across different populations, could help to target interventions to foster reconnection with nature, especially among children living in urban and often nature-deprived spaces. Our results on the barriers for pro-environmental behaviors offer a preliminary account of key regional barriers to the adoption of pro-environmental behaviors. Finally, we confirm that even environmentalists struggle to adopt pro-environmental behaviors, but that they are much more likely than others to engage in informed advocacy, activism, and other behaviors.