Do young people feel able to express their opinions about their relationship with nature?

Sometimes, an individual does not feel able to express themselves on a subject, that is to say that they do not feel sufficiently competent to dare to expose their knowledge or opinion. The debates on the degradation of biodiversity and global warming are good examples to talk about the feeling of lack of legitimacy. In our survey, talking about nature means both being able to recount personal experiences, sometimes very strong ones, in relation to nature, and talking about the functioning of nature, which is often very complex,…

Generally speaking, it seems that when we talk about nature, we are often talking about two different things. We have named them “intimate-nature” and the “global-nature”. Let’s take a closer look…

What is intimate nature?

It is the natural world that we experience directly in our daily lives or during specific activities; for example, during an outing to the forest, to the mountains or even at the beach. This nature, we see it, we feel it, we rub shoulders with it. It is perceptible, close to us; it is the animals that we stroke, it is the birds that come to rest in our yard, it is the tree that we appreciate and that we have known since we were children.,.. This is the place where we like to walk, in nature, with family or with our friends.

What do you think about when we talk about intimate-nature? What places, animals or plants do you think of? Is this intimate-nature important in your life?

For example, when Anissa, 19, tells us that “Nature is the species of plants and animals that surround us, that we see in our environment”, she speaks to us of “intimate-nature”.

What is global nature?

This is where things can get complicated. Unlike intimate nature, this “global” nature cannot be directly grasped by the senses. It is the ecosystem, the biodiversity, the biological reality of life, all the physical and meteorological phenomena of the planet.

Our study showed this: when we talk about nature, sometimes we talk about “intimate-nature” and sometimes about “global-nature”. If you do this exercise, you will probably see that your parents and friends often switch from one of these definitions of nature to another.

And what is your definition of nature? Depending on where you are, do you move from one definition to another?

When 23-year-old Claire tells us that “Nature is very broad, it’s all the environment around us, all the environment of our ecosystem”, she is talking here about “global-nature”.

Global nature and challenge of intellectual mastery

Our research has shown us that for some young people, global nature is problematic…

Talking about intimate-nature supposes that we have had experiences with elements of nature, such as a place or animals. On the other hand, global-nature requires theoretical knowledge…

However, several young people in the study, although engaged with the environmental cause, told us that they do not always feel comfortable debating and talking about this subject that is close to their hearts precisely because they feel they do not understand how nature works enough; in their opinion, it is a subject that is sometimes too complex. In other words, the relationship we have with global nature can sometimes be an obstacle to our desire to express ourselves on environmental issues…

The two definitions of nature, “intimate” and “global”, allow us to understand that we do not all perceive nature in the same way and, above all, that we do not all use the same vocabulary to describe it. There is no right or wrong definition. Each of them simply translates two different ways of living and understanding nature.

Do you know what environmental amnesia is?

Anne-Caroline Prévaut from the Natural Museum of Paris explains…

What are our experiences of nature?

Do you see natural places like forests, mountains or the sea, or even animals and plants as you saw them when you were a child? Do you think our relationship to nature changes over time?

Experiences are often very personal. We do not all have the same relationship with nature and above all, it evolves over time.

The Covid-19 health crisis has shown us this. At least that is what the young people we met during our study told us. As you know, lockdown has radically changed our relationship to where we live. And this experience, both collective and individual, gives us precious information on the way in which we form our relationship with nature, and our interest in it…

We asked young people what they had experienced during the various episodes of lockdown. In total, we have identified four different experiences of post-lockdown nature.

1. Consciousness experiences

During the lockdowns, did you become aware of the importance of the natural elements that were part of your life?

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If so, you have had a consciousness-awakening experience. It occurred in people who were in regular contact with nature before the health crisis and whose lockdown made them aware of its importance. For these people, during the lockdown everything continued as before, but their view of nature changed! This is the example of those people who realized how “lucky” they were to have a small garden, how important their pets were in their lives, or how privileged they were to be able to live, even part-time, in the countryside. For some respondents to our study, this awareness has accentuated the pleasure obtained from contact with these natural elements and has even led others to develop their environmental knowledge, and to develop an interest in gardening, ornithology, and so forth.

2. Absence experiences

Did the lockdowns cause you to feel like you’re suffering from the lack of contact with nature?

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If so, you have had an experience of absence. People who had a regular relationship with nature and who were deprived of it during lockdown, told us about this feeling. This sudden cessation of contact with nature led many people to realize that the inaccessibility to the natural environment was accompanied, for them, by a decrease in their well-being. While the feeling of well-being felt during contact with nature was once obvious to the point of forgetting its value, being deprived of it leads the individual to question themselves as to the role played by this contact with nature in their existence and their identity. No longer having access to trails or the sea, for example, produced this feeling of absence in several respondents.

3. Liberating experiences

Did the lockdowns promote a sense that contact with nature was associated with the idea of freedom?

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If so, you have had a liberating experience. This occurs when a person, who had no contact with nature before the health crisis, began to feel this need during lockdown. It is the discrepancy between the fact of being confined in a closed space, that of a house apartment, with the fact of finding oneself in nature which produced, according to the young people we spoke to, this feeling that contact with nature helped them feel “freer”. By discovering the invaluable advantages of going out into the natural environment during this period of restrictions, they then gave new meaning to this contact with nature.

4. Revelation Experiences

During the lockdowns, did you see, smell, touch or hear natural elements for the first time that you had been around before?

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If so, you have had a revelation experience. It is a revelation in the sense that, by staying put, being confronted with a quasi immobility, we were led to look differently at our surroundings. Where before many of us paid no attention to the elements of the natural world around us, the lockdowns led several young people in the study to develop a new perspective on the natural elements visible in their neighbourhood, even those from the window. Some noticed the existence of trees which had been right there in front of their eyes for a long time, while others, for example, started to pay attention to the sunsets again…

It is possible that you, like the young people in our study, have had none of these experiences, or only one, two, three, sometimes even all four…!

If we were able to identify the experiences of awareness, absence, liberation and revelation during confinement, we can hypothesize that these four types of experiences are the basis of our relationship with nature. Have you ever had these types of experiences in contexts other than the health crisis?

Selon vous, peut-on être engagé en faveur de l’environnement et n’éprouver aucun sentiment envers la nature ?
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