Biodiversity Stripes – A Journey from Green to Grey

The climate stripes were created by Professor Ed Hawkins at the University of Reading in 2018. A simple series of vertical coloured bars, showing the heating of the planet over 200 years. The stripes have had a huge impact. In the launch week, over a million people downloaded graphics from the website and they have appeared and been shared widely. The climate stripes have done a great job increasing awareness of climate change.

Global Climate Stripes, 1850-2021 data going from blue to red.Global Climate Stripes, 1850-2021. Data Source UK Met Office CC BY 4.0

Climate change has been found to get up to eight times more coverage than biodiversity loss. Yet only by addressing both the warming climate and loss of wildlife do we stand a chance of passing on a stable planet for future generations. This imbalance is odd as many of us claim to love nature and wildlife. And while we may talk about the weather, few of us love the climate. The decline of nature provides a sure sign that our relationship with nature is failing.

So, I’ve been hoping to see a biodiversity version of the stripes for a couple of years. So recently, after only finding a pair of biodiversity striped socks online, and encouraged by Ed’s support, I set out to find some suitable historical data and create some biodiversity stripes.

I was well aware of the Living Planet Report which tells us that the population of mammals, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles has seen an average drop of 68% globally since 1970, so it didn’t take me long to find the Living Planet Index. The global data includes over 20,000 populations of over 4000 species.

Given it’s a single number representing many things over the whole globe, the stark decline since 1970 is quite smooth – which means ‘unstripey’ – the colour changes would be too subtle for stripes to emerge. So, to capture the trend while providing stripes I simply created a random point between the high and low confidence intervals for each year. As for the colours, the decline of wildlife is a loss of vibrancy and colour, the green becomes grey. So, the global stripes start green in 1970 and turn grey as we enter the 2000s.

Bio Stripes showing 1970 to 2016 data from Living Planet Index - higher biodiversity is green and grey is lower.

Global Bio Stripes – Data: Living Planet Index http://stats.livingplanetindex.org/

I was also interested with wildlife that could be combined with the stripes. After considering caterpillars and worms, I decided that the colourful natural world is represented nicely by the Toucan. Most of us have never seen a toucan in the wild, but we’re aware of them, their large vibrant beaks bringing colour to the world. To the Central and Southern Americas to be more precise. And here is a toucan representing the living planet index data for that region. This dataset includes 1,159 populations of 761 terrestrial and freshwater species.

Bio Stripes in Toucan bill showing 1970 to 2016 data from Living Planet Index - higher biodiversity is green and grey is lower.

Latin Bio Stripes – Data: Living Planet Index http://stats.livingplanetindex.org/

Closer to home, sadly, the UK is one of the most nature depleted counties on the planet, which turns our attention to human-nature connection and building a closer relationship with nature. With a paucity of nature comes a lack of nature connection, which is built upon simply noticing and engaging with nature. So little surprise that the UK is also bottom of a not so super European league for nature connectedness.  That recent research also shows a very strong association between biodiversity and nature connectedness. Add in research that shows that higher levels of nature connectedness brings better mental wellbeing and it is also people who become greyer without nature.

There is global recognition from organisations such as the UN and IPBES that the failing human relationship with nature is an underlying cause of the environmental crises. Greening the grey can rebuild the human-nature relationship, both through providing opportunities for people to take part in caring for nature, but also to enjoy a greener and more colourful world.

Hopefully, the bio stripes can go a little way to raising the awareness of the decline in wildlife. And readers of this blog can help. For example, with better image overlays or do you know of several decades of continuous data for the UK? This could be a broader representation or have a focus on certain species, from birds to insects. The stripes provide a great way to tell a story of that data, especially when combined with some images, for example showing the data for 944 freshwater species.

Bio Stripes showing 1970 to 2016 data from Living Planet Index - higher freshwater biodiversity is blue and grey is lower.

Freshwater Bio Stripes – Data: Living Planet Index http://stats.livingplanetindex.org/

Here, I’ve simply overlaid a declining flock of birds onto the global bio stripes.

Bio Stripes overlaid with birds showing 1970 to 2016 data from Living Planet Index - higher biodiversity is green and grey is lower.

Global Bio Stripes with birds – Data: Living Planet Index http://stats.livingplanetindex.org/

Climate change is structurally global, and biodiversity loss is global through aggregation across many habitats, species and populations. The effect of climate on local weather makes climate change visible and the costs more calculable. The loss of toucans and wildlife more generally, although sad, perhaps doesn’t present the same clear threat to human health for many. So, in addition to accurate and eye-catching information there’s a need to relate the loss of biodiversity to human well-being. Raising awareness that biodiversity underpins the health of the planet and that humans are part of the web of life. How wildlife helps keep us well, from pollinating crops to our microbiome of invisible friends essential for good health. Ultimately, when our world is grey, so are we.

When our world turns hot and grey, so do we. The heating of the planet and global loss of biodiversity since 1970 combined. Have a better overlay? Let me know. Global Bio Stripes – Data: Met Office and Living Planet Index http://stats.livingplanetindex.org/

 

Postscript:

The bio stripes have been really popular with engagement 10 to 100 times more than the pretty good engagement I usually get. There have been many positive comments, interview requests – why wouldn’t there be given the original climate stripes have shown how effective the concept is? It’s interesting that the few negative comments have tended to come from those closer to the biodiversity data, I’m a psychologist. The stripes use real data to give a very general overview and capture attention, enabling a deeper story to be told.

Also to note, the biodiversity stripes weren’t created by a funded project with design expertise and extensive user testing. They were created in less than an hour using Excel, copyright free clip art and PowerPoint, but I did use the Coblis colour blindness simulator to check the stripes still came through for those with colour vision deficiency. As in the original post, graphics from those with more design skills are welcome.

 

LPI 2022. Living Planet Index http://stats.livingplanetindex.org/. Downloaded 8 August 2022

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Help discover the benefits of trees

We know that being connected with nature is good for us, but there’s still more research to be done – and that includes understanding more about the benefits of trees. This is especially important with the plans to plant millions of trees. The £10 million Future of the UK Treescapes research programme was established to inform these future treescapes. Last year, in a consortium led by York University, we were awarded funding for the ‘Connected Treescapes‘ project. This will explore the value of trees, including the benefits for people’s wellbeing, cultural heritage and wildlife.

One part of the research project is ready to launch and we’re looking for people to get involved. With a focus on the National Forest, Treefest involves eight walks accessed via the walking app Go Jauntly. Through walking the walks those that take part will provide data which will allow us to calculate how various types of trees, woodlands and forests benefit wellbeing. We can then use this data to create tools and knowledge to inform the design of future treescapes for the benefit of future generations and the rest of the natural world.

If you live near the National Forest, download the Go Jauntly app on your iPhone or android device and head out to one of our research walks (listed below). Answer a few simple questions before and after your walk. Researchers will then study this data to see how various treescapes relate to wellbeing.

  1. Dunstall Treefest Walk http://app.gojauntly.com/walk/7351348521212056044
  2. Robin Wood Treefest Walk http://app.gojauntly.com/walk/14626842268153025004
  3. Jackson’s Bank Treefest Walk http://app.gojauntly.com/walk/9750694836770378220
  4. ​​Calke Treefest Walk https://app.gojauntly.com/walk/6375137995898098156
  5. Beacon Hill Treefest Walk http://app.gojauntly.com/walk/5399054433687507436
  6. Jubilee Treefest Walk https://app.gojauntly.com/walk/5269121016646275564
  7. Rosliston Treefest Walk  ​​https://app.gojauntly.com/walk/13500718773428097516
  8. Anslow Treefest Walk https://app.gojauntly.com/walk/6102890610209133036

In addition to making your own contribution to the future treescapes, as a huge thanks for taking the time to participate in this research study, we’ll enter all those who take part in the walks by 23:59 on 31st October 2022 into a prize draw to win one of twenty £100 gift vouchers.

Once the walks are done, data is in and analysed we hope to be able to show how different types, ages and locations of trees affect our wellbeing. Those results will be shared on this blog.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Stockholm+50: Unlocking a Better Future

The Stockholm+50 international meeting convened by the United Nations General Assembly took place earlier in June. It was attended by heads of state and government ministers from over one hundred nations, as well as many other representatives. The meeting saw the launch of Stockholm+50: Unlocking a Better Future – An independent scientific report by the  Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) and the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) produced to provide a scientific basis for the meeting.

Stockholm+50: Unlocking a Better Future

Guided by an advisory panel of experts in sustainable development science and policy, researchers at SEI, CEEW and collaborating institutions have synthesised the scientific evidence and prepared recommendations for action. The report notes how scientific research provides evidence and guidance on how to make progress on critical challenges and lays out many of the ideas that can help transform our world.

It was great to see that a key message highlighted in the report was on the human-nature relationship:

  • “Our relationship with nature needs redefining, from one of extraction to one of care. Human-nature connectedness should be strengthened in our social norms and value systems, and in how we live our everyday lives.”

The wider report noted the science of nature connectedness with the summary for policymakers noting the need to repair and redefine our relationship with nature. This also included calls to action around that:

  • “Integrate nature in cities and urban areas – Local governments can promote human-nature connectedness through green architecture, infrastructure and access to nature in the towns and cities where most people live and work, as a way of both seeding transformative change through shaping values and providing immediate climate, biodiversity and health benefits. “
  • “Expand and invest in nature-based education – Through education policy and school curricula that connect children with nature, education authorities and teachers could contribute to a long-term, catalytic effect on repairing our relationship with nature. Inspiration can be taken from Indigenous communities’ nature-based education.”

The summary for policymakers is based on a more detailed consideration of redefining the relationship between humans and nature. It recognises that society’s disconnection from nature is a root cause of ecological decline. This section of the report covers the need to address the core imbalance in how societies value nature, including the need for more relational values.

This would require profound changes across economies, societies and communities and the report notes that measuring human-nature connectedness is a pathway to repairing our failing relationship with nature. Coincidentally, our paper on nature connectedness being a key metric for a sustainable future was published a few days before the report.

The report includes our pathways research which suggests that nature connectedness can be increased through carefully designed interventions and that there is an opportunity to combine with leverage points for transformative change.  The report notes how this approach can be adopted in areas such as education and urban design “to encourage a cultural reset on how we see nature – and how we then ‘use’ or interact with nature”.

The areas for action to redefine the human-nature relationship include drawing on the pathways to nature connectedness to repair the broken relationship between humans and nature. This leads to specific areas for action to help reconnect people, communities and societies to the nature around them. The actions address how we live, produce food and learn and include integrating nature within cities and urban areas and expansion of nature-based education. Recommending, for example, education policy and curricula that are explicitly informed by pathways to nature connectedness thinking. The breadth of opportunities and change needed is reflected in the action on housing policy which suggests that all new developments include opportunities for an active relationship with nature. For example, urban planning providing everyday opportunities to care for and connect with nature.

The report is a significant step in the growing global recognition that the human-nature relationship is a core issue and that the science of nature connectedness can be applied to make a difference. We don’t have all the answers, but there is sufficient evidence to progress another key message in the report – that “bold and science-based decision-making is needed to accelerate the pace of change”. The message is clear, the human-nature relationship itself, not just the symptoms of that failing relationship, is a tangible target for change – and bold, creative, evidence based thinking can help fix that failing relationship.

 

SEI & CEEW (2022). Stockholm+50: Unlocking a Better Future. Stockholm Environment Institute. DOI: 10.51414/sei2022.011

M. Richardson, J. Dobson, D. J. Abson, R. Lumber, A. Hunt, R. Young & B. Moorhouse (2020). Applying the pathways to nature connectedness at a societal scale: a leverage points perspective, Ecosystems and People, 16:1, 387-401, DOI: 10.1080/26395916.2020.1844296

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Nature has to be more than our labels

Some people are more connected to nature than others. We know that most people don’t notice nature, but what do they think about nature? A couple of recent research studies give some insight into this question. And their findings help confirm what we know about how to improve the human-nature relationship. As we know, a closer relationship with nature is essential for both human and nature’s wellbeing.

The first paper by Melissa Hatty and colleagues examined people’s concepts of nature through looking at the language they used. They found the responses fell into three themes. The first was the use of descriptive language such as descriptions of animals, plants and landscapes. 73% of responses were of this type. The second theme was the ‘normative language’ often used by experts, terms to do with conservation and biodiversity for example. Less than 2% of people used these types of terms. The third theme was experiential language, language to do with activities in nature, positive emotions and feelings. These accounted for just 3.5% of responses. Around 19% of people used language from two or more categories.

So how did this relate to nature connectedness? Those people with higher levels of nature connectedness used more experiential terms, or terms from more than one group. People who described nature in simple descriptive terms had lower nature connectedness scores.

So, it’s rather concerning that most people think of nature in simple descriptive terms. There is little sign that people think about nature in the emotional terms that create a closer relationship and bring mental wellbeing. This reflects how we’re schooled to think about the world. In typologies, processes, and the labels of the various parts of nature.

Teaching facts, figures and information is also a popular approach to engaging people with nature, but research has shown this tends not to be the best way to improve nature connectedness. It is thought that the usual approach of transmitting knowledge suppresses emotional content. When people understand through facts and figures they become primary. Emotions become secondary. More positively, getting people to write about nature using emotional language leads to increases in nature connectedness – and mental health.

This knowledge-based approach together with the extinction of nature experience could well explain the second recent paper about how people think about nature. This research explored urban dwellers ‘mental models’. Mental models are the conceptualisation people have about the real world. This research found that people living in an urban environment had a more simplistic understanding of nature – the complex interrelationships between nature and humans. This limited their ability to live in harmony with nature.

In sum, the two studies show that being disconnected from nature is linked to simplistic thinking about nature. With simplistic thinking about nature leading to fewer pro-nature behaviours. Sadly, the simplistic descriptive thinking was found in the majority of people.

 

Hatty, M. A., Goodwin, D., Smith, L. D. G., & Mavondo, F. (2022, May 12). Speaking of nature: Relationships between how people think about, connect with, and act to protect nature. https://doi.org/10.31219/osf.io/wtgy3

Aminpour, P., Gray, S. A., Beck, M. W., Furman, K. L., Tsakiri, I., Gittman, R. K., … & Scyphers, S. B. (2022). Urbanized knowledge syndrome—erosion of diversity and systems thinking in urbanites’ mental models. npj Urban Sustainability, 2(1), 1-10.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Nature connectedness: A key metric for a sustainable future

As noted in the first part of this blog, there is global recognition from organisations such as the UN and IPBES that the failing human relationship with nature is an underlying cause of the environmental crises. Nature connectedness captures that relationship with nature which allows researchers to identify the factors in the failing relationship, develop solutions and monitor progress towards a sustainable future. Our latest paper published recently in the Springer Nature journal Ambio illustrates why nature connectedness is a key metric for a sustainable future. The paper is available here and the blog summary is split into two parts, this blog on nature connectedness as a key metric being the second part – the first part covers country level factors in a failing relationship with nature.

Nature connectedness – one measure for one health

Part one showed the relationship between country level factors and individual levels of nature connectedness, with the strong relationship between individual levels of nature connectedness and various country level factors. There is also wider research which shows the strong and causal relationships between nature connectedness and both wellbeing and pro-environmental behaviours. This suggests nature connectedness could be a useful indicator to monitor progress towards a more sustainable future. So in the Ambio paper we compared nature connectedness to existing indices of prosperity, human development, sustainability and social progress. Again, the full paper gives more detail.

The table below provides a summary of the correlations between a selection of composite indices for each country and outcomes related to human and nature’s wellbeing. 14,745 adults across 14 European countries responded to questions on nature connectedness (INS) and well-being (WHO’s 5-item index of positive well-being) with the National Biodiversity Index NBI used for biodiversity and the Emissions Database for Global Atmospheric Research (EDGAR) for carbon emissions.

Nature Connectedness Carbon Emissions Well-being Biodiversity
Legatum Prosperity Index -0.61 0.13 -0.52 -0.83
Human Development Index -0.65 0.06 -0.51 -0.76
Social Progress Index -0.44 0.01 -0.33 -0.67
Sustainable Development Ranking -0.38 0.20 -0.42 -0.72
Nature Connectedness 1.00 0.02 0.64 0.81

Interestingly, whereas nature connectedness is linked to higher levels of well-being and biodiversity, the four composite metrics all had a negative relationship to well-being and, most notably for the Sustainable Development Ranking, biodiversity. Further, the selected composite indexes all have a negative relationship to nature connectedness, even the Sustainable Development Ranking.

Higher scores on these indexes are intended to reflect positive outcomes related to meeting basic human needs, human development, prosperity and sustainability – yet they have a negative relationship to wellbeing and biodiversity. They fail to capture the bond between people and nature that is recognised as by organisations such as the UN and IPBES as essential for a healthy and sustainable life. While nature connectedness emerges as a useful, yet simple indicator of both human and nature’s well-being that should inform the transition to a sustainable future. It provides one measure for one health.

These relationships could be limited to this sample of countries, although when extended to data from 150 nations, the relationship between biodiversity and the Sustainable Development Ranking is weaker, but still negative. More work is needed to extend this analysis to all the countries around the globe.

Meanwhile it’s interesting to consider what might be happening. The sustainable development ranking measures a country’s overall progress towards achieving the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). To me the SDGs are essentially dualistic, they are a product of the dominant worldview where people and nature are sperate. Some of the goals focus on humans, such as ensuring health and education, ending poverty and hunger. And other goals focus on nature, such as conserving marine and terrestrial ecosystems. Despite the UN statements on the “urgent need to transform our relationship with nature“ the SDGs do not specifically mention the human-nature relationship or consider nature connectedness (or related measures) as an indicator.

The only relevant reference to the human-nature relationship I can see is a sub-item of Goal 12, ‘Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns’ with target 12.8 stating ‘By 2030, ensure that people everywhere have the relevant information and awareness for sustainable development and lifestyles in harmony with nature’. It is still not specifically targeting the human-nature relationship and the indicators for 12.8 are focussed on citizenship and sustainable development education providing the knowledge and skills to act – but research shows that human-nature relationships aren’t built on knowledge and such an approach is unlikely to improve nature connectedness.

More work would be useful, however, given statements and evidence that the human-nature relationship is failing and an underlying cause of the environmental crises, together with wider evidence that nature connectedness captures that relationship with nature and explains both human and nature’s wellbeing there should be an 18th SDG specific to improving the human-nature relationship with nature connectedness providing a straightforward indicator.

It is clear that the human-nature relationship is failing, leading to human induced climate change and loss of wildlife. The country-based analysis in part one of the blog helps confirm that this failing relationship is related to affluent, technological consumer-based living that consumes natural resources and reduces biodiversity, which feeds back to further weaken the human-nature relationship. That analysis, plus the comparison of indexes above, also supports nature connectedness as a key indicator of the human-nature relationship. Hence the conclusion in the paper that nature connectedness is a critical indicator of human and nature’s well-being needed to inform the transition to a sustainable future. Rather than focussing on treating the symptoms of the failing human-nature relationship, it’s time to tackle the root cause.

Read Part 1 of this blog here.

Richardson, M., Hamlin, I., Elliott, L.R. et al. Country-level factors in a failing relationship with nature: Nature connectedness as a key metric for a sustainable future. Ambio (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13280-022-01744-w

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment