I enjoyed reading THE book of Miles Richardson's. I say THE book because it feels like this is the book he has been working towards for twenty years. The book is one big plea to take nature-connectedness seriously, as a hope for the future.
At the beginning of the book, Richardson describes how far we as humans have become from nature. The more we consume to meet a modern lifestyle, the more we become disconnected from nature. That process has been going on for thousands of years, but has accelerated once again since the period of enlightenment. From then on we started to see the world more or less as a machine. Where you can simply 'fix' problems, for example by replacing a part with a new or smarter device. According to Richardson, this mechanical way of seeing represents a dramatic turn in history, because we have forgotten how everything is connected. The result is that we are so preoccupied with ourselves and our objects that we no longer see the relationships with others and our environment. And that in turn has led to our current challenges, such as climate change, biodiversity loss, and also mental health issues. Based on various studies, Richardson argues that deep in our existence we need a connection with nature.
The book then mentions many examples showing that reconnecting with nature is good for our well-being. Richardson emphasizes that simply going into nature is not enough. It will only be really good for our well-being if we really pay attention to nature, and nature-connectivity grows. Simply walking into nature is not enough, you still have to do something. Some will have to do a little more for this than others, because connecting with nature becomes easier if you are open, honest and conscious in life. The good news for people who have grown up without too much nature around is that it is not too late – they are still susceptible to improving their connection with nature. Richardson also does not shy away from the words 'spiritual need', mentioning the potential role of nature connection in providing meaning. He cites a Philippine study that shows that people who felt more connected to nature found on average their lives more meaningful. These people also scored better on mental health.
So much for the benefits for humans. Another chapter emphasizes that higher nature-connectedness leads to more sustainable behavior, benefiting other species. We also saw this with our Earthfulness Challenge. After the challenge in 2022, the average willingness to commit to nature turned out to be significantly higher. In light of today's enormous global challenges, Richardson strongly believes that increasing nature connection must be a top priority at this time.
He takes plenty of time to describe his exercise 'three good things in nature'. People were asked to write down three things every day that are good in nature. The exercise turned out to be extremely effective in increasing nature connection. Reconnecting with nature doesn't have to be that difficult! This can be done with everyone around the corner - a tree in the street, a plant in the room - there is always enough greenery nearby to connect with. In doing so, Richardson discusses the many studies that he and his group are conducting at England's Derby University to discover different 'pathways'; routes that help connect with nature. This involves the use of the senses, emotions, beauty, meaning and compassion. At the same time, Richardson warns that you don't build a relationship overnight. It requires longer programs.
(Government) policy can help with this, for example by ensuring that education programs not only focus on bringing children and people into nature, but also by ensuring that they do something there that makes them reconnect. The University of Derby helps the government to actually measure the degree of nature connection in society (maybe also nice for our Dutch Central Bureau of Statistics?). Government policy can also ensure that nature connections are taken into account in spatial planning. For example, Richardson suggests that everyone in their neighborhood should be able to see or hear at least 60 bird species. In addition, hospitals could also be designed in a much more natural and greener way. He mentions Plymouth, which apparently profiles itself as a 'nature city'. That was new to me, but I'll put it in the back of my mind for my next holiday trip. 🙂
Throughout the book, Richardson also tells something about his personal story, why he has focused his entire career on nature connection. How he rediscovered himself during nature walks in his area, and how he subsequently built his profession around the experience. The book is easy to read and with the book he has, as far as I know, written the first well-organized overview about the ins-and-outs of nature connection. I sometimes missed some extra depth. I would have liked a thicker book, with more information about the scientific studies and articles he refers to. But I have already read so much on the subject that I am probably no longer the reader he is aiming for. More than two years ago, Riyan van den Born (Radboud University) and I had a digital meeting with Richardson. He talked about his ambition to make increasing connection with nature 'mainstream'. He (rightly) wants connection with nature not to be limited to a group of highly educated 'green thinkers', but for everyone. That is why the book is probably quite compact in size. In approximately 250 pages, Richardson provides an overview of the relevant aspects surrounding the concept of nature connection. If you really want to delve deeper into one such aspect, for example the neuroscientific background to nature connection, then other books are recommended. But I still hope that everyone who is concerned with nature connection will read the book. As Richardson writes, approaches to connecting with nature are still very fragmented and far from fully developed. The overview of this book can help to see how we can complement each other and what is still needed to help people to reconnect with nature.
Arjan Berkhuysen, september 2023