An Abundance of Nature and Free Time: The COVID-19 Pandemic’s Effects on Human-Nature Interactions & Potential Policy Applications
Author: Peyton Meyer
About the Author: Growing up just outside of Madison, Wisconsin, Peyton Meyer (he/him) is an undergraduate student at Yale University, with interests in psychology, mental health advocacy, and environmentalism. As an avid cross country skier, and having served as garden chair in his hometown's community garden, Peyton has seen firsthand the unique effects that nature can have on the mind, a driving factor behind his participation in nature-based intervention research over the past year.
Amid stay-at-home orders and social distancing, human-nature interactions saw significant changes during the COVID-19 pandemic. In April 2021, Soga et al. published “Impacts of the COVID‐19 pandemic on human–nature interactions: Pathways, evidence and implications” in the journal People and Nature (Soga et al., 2021). The authors propose a conceptual framework describing the pathways by which COVID-19 may affect human-nature interactions and resulting feedback loops (Figure 1). The authors emphasize that effective policies should minimize human-nature interactions with negative consequences, and maximize those with positive consequences, to benefit individuals’ health, safety, and motivation to get outdoors.
Though its conclusion feels obvious, the framework merits further investigation. It demonstrates how one consequence can have lasting impacts on future human-nature interactions through the three pathways and feedback loops, and how these may be modified by COVID-19 (Figure 1). Such reasoning could provide strong support for policies related to nature conservation, establishing natural spaces, and accessibility of natural spaces.
A positive feedback loop would lead to further increases in human-nature interactions. For example, if people have more free time to spend with nature (Pathway 1), which improves their mental health (Pathway 2), this may increase motivation for future visits to nature (Pathway 3). A negative feedback loop would be where increases in human-nature interactions lead to decreases, or vice versa. For example, again, if people have more free time to spend with nature (Pathway 1), they may have more chances of injuring themselves while out (Pathway 2). The natural areas’ quality could also decrease from overuse without proper maintenance, which could lead to people being less interested in spending their time there (Pathway 3).
Looking deeper, the study can be broken into three key parts: an initial investigation of the pandemic’s impacts on human-nature interactions, creating the conceptual framework, and an analysis of potential feedback loops. Human-nature interactions were investigated using data from around the world recorded before and during the pandemic. The data analyzed ranges from greenspace/forest visits to wildlife-vehicle collisions per day (Figure 2)
Though often increasing in quantity, the data suggest that human-nature interaction frequency during the pandemic likely depends on where a person lives and the local norms/policies. Greenspace/forest visits are seen to increase in graphs a-d, while decreasing in the UK (e) (Figure 2). Further, wildlife observations decreased in South Africa and wildlife-vehicle collisions decreased in California. Overall, it is the conceptual framework that could explain the variety of these results. Thus, the conceptual framework shows real promise for applications to reasoning and supporting related policies.
- Peyton Meyer
Source Article: Source Article: Soga, M., M. J. Evans, D. T. C. Cox and K. J. Gaston (2021). "Impacts of the COVID‐19 pandemic on human–nature interactions: Pathways, evidence and implications." People and Nature. https://besjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdfdirect/10.1002/pan3.10201