PhD - Transforming Our Relationship With Nature

by Damien Hackney in Chagford, England, United Kingdom


£30,000 target 16 days left
2% 27 supporters
Flexible funding – this project will receive all pledges made by 5th November 2020 at 2:53pm

Background to the project:Despite years of consensus across the scientific community that our present environmental crisis is caused by huma...

by Damien Hackney in Chagford, England, United Kingdom

Background to the project:

Despite years of consensus across the scientific community that our present environmental crisis is caused by human activity, and despite climate change mitigation targets set by countries around the world, governments have yet to unify and act with the level of response needed to ensure a habitable planet for future generations. It is becoming ever clearer that meaningful change needs to be rooted in a fundamental shift in society’s relationship to nature. Furthermore, it is in urban populations where this shift needs to happen most urgently.


I am on a mission to bring about this fundamental shift. Last year I dedicated a master’s degree to unpacking the secrets of nature connectedness through a series of in-depth interviews with people from various walks of life who all shared something in common: a deep love and care for nature. I wanted to understand this experience in more detail because a wealth of research has shown a positive relationship between nature connectedness, environmental values, and pro-environmental behaviours. My research led to a clear structure of the experience of nature connectedness, and informed an initial model of how care for nature might by cultivated. However, vital questions remain if nature connectedness is to be drawn upon as an effective way of bringing about the societal changes we need for a sustainable future; questions that I hope to solve over the next three years. Questions such as:

  • How might urban residents with limited access to natural environments develop a feeling of psychological closeness to nature?
  • Which present structures and value systems could inhibit urban residents from experiencing a felt connection to nature? How might these structures be changed?
  • How might environmental values, that have been shown to emerge from a sense of nature connectedness, motivate increased political and civic engagement with environmental issues?

Answers to these questions would provide valuable knowledge that could help environmental organisations work more effectively in generating grass roots support for policy change, as well as empowering individuals to exercise agency in the face of environmental issues that often feel overwhelming in scale. My research should also make innovative contributions to environmental education in both institutional and community settings.

What will I be doing?

Previous research in environmental and social psychology has focused on individual behaviour change, but as the environmental crisis and climate emergency intensifies, the need for radical structural change is being increasingly recognised. The first part of my PhD project will be dedicated to developing a theory of change that integrates both individual behaviour change and structural change, providing a pathway for change toward sustainability at all levels of society. Using this theory of change as a guide, I will then focus on how psychological representations of nature can engage urban residents in ways that strengthen feelings of identification with nature, and a recognition of the intrinsic value of nature. I will gather evidence to evaluate the potential of a variety of interventions that draw on imaginative ways of relating to the non-human world, such as engagement in community ritual, story-telling and art. Finally, I will be drawing on empirical evidence to identify how these interventions could function as antecedents for behaviour change, political activism and sustainable policy support.


A key focus of my approach will be to continuously consider the close link between environmental issues and issues of socioeconomic, race and gender inequalities. Most importantly, this bold and innovative project will also maintain a focus on its potential for creating social, political and ecological impact. Not just ‘new knowledge’, but ‘new actionable knowledge’ should be the result of this PhD.  

With your support, I will be able to dedicate more of my time to this crucially important project, work to a larger scale, and access the resources I need. I see this as much more than just ‘my PhD project’. I see this as our project, as citizens of the earth. The media is full of environmental ambassadors describing our relationship with the natural world – a world on which we are wholly dependent for survival – as being at a ‘tipping point’. I believe there is no technological solution, change in policy or behaviour that will address this climate emergency in a sustainable way unless all these things are powered and underpinned by a radical change in how we, as humans, relate to the rest of nature. With your help, and together, we can use this project to define what such a radical change could look like, and more importantly, how to implement it.

There are two ways you can support this project:

1. Make a donation!

2. Share this crowd-funding page to everyone you know, put it on your social media platforms, and let them know why you think it matters.

Thank you so much for your support, and for joining me in tackling the most pressing issue of our time!


(Thanks to Akil Mazumder, Bauerzhan Kadylzhanov and Felix Mittermeier from Pexels for their photos)

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