Today I attended a workshop at Defra about connecting people with the environment. The questions for the day were broadly who to target? The barriers and challenges? What works? How to scale up? A cultural change is required within a generation and towards the end of the day our table focussed on young adults; our research suggests they are more disconnected from nature than older generations. Further justification is that this group are likely to be influencing future generations; their children. This group is often termed Millennials.
This is not my area of expertise, but a brief scan (standing on the train as I write this) suggests that Millennials have a strong sense of community, both local and global, supporting the restriction of offensive speech and need for safe places. This group were much more likely to vote remain in the EU referendum. Others question this sense of community and highlight higher levels of narcissism in this group – a trait our research has found is a barrier to nature connection.
Other work suggests they are detached from institutions (but not the EU then?) and prefer to network with friends. Studies have shown they are less willing to support environmental causes, yet they want to make the world better – a confusing picture!
The Millennials will be at the forefront as the human species moves towards bio-engineered generations – Homo Deus. They will make key decisions about the future of our species, and the future of many others.
So how do we engage younger adults in order to reconnect them with nature? Millennials are said to have a less meaningful philosophy of life. Using social media to create a sense of belonging, they are digitally networked. Does this create a route for engagement? Nature is the ultimate global network. Our research suggests that an awareness of being part of nature brings meaning. Nature (usually in the U.K.) provides a safe space, it is detached from institutions and brings pro-social behaviours. An engaging message for Millennials? Once again, others understand such groups and engaging them much better than me, but we do need to connect them with nature – the ultimate network.