In a nutshell: We found that urban residents today are more strongly connected to nature, and had similar daily experiences of nature, compared to those from 22 years ago.
It is widely believed that people living in cities have fewer daily experiences of nature, and that if people do not experience nature, they will not care about its conservation. In 1978, Robert Pyle coined the term “extinction of experience” to reflect the losses of opportunities to experience nature particularly in urban environments. However, evidence of an emotional disconnect arising from this extinction of experience remains poorly documented. We repeated a household survey conducted in Singapore in 1996 to find out how experiences of nature, and the emotional connection between people and nature has changed across the 22 years.
We discovered that people’s connection with nature had actually increased, and that this effect was consistent across both park users and non-users. We also found that the frequency and duration of park visits remained about the same, and that the number of different kinds of nature experienced (from trees and flowers to birds and butterflies) also remained unchanged. It appears that urban residents could have more opportunities to experience local nature over time, since we discovered an increase in the number of bird species and the number of individual birds present in the parklands. Our findings suggest that an extinction of experience and an emotional disconnect from nature are not inevitable in an urban landscape.
Evidently, people do care about nature. Perhaps what we ought to focus on is how to make expressing environmentally protective attitudes and behaviour effortless.
This text is adapted by the author from a BES plain summary supplement found here.
Photo Caption: The beautiful Blue-crowned Hanging Parrot could be an everyday urban nature experience for Singaporean residents.
Photo credits: Benjamin Oh