Meditating Trump might benefit environment – study
10 November 2022
Mindfulness, meditation and landscape painting not only help mental health but encourage people to look after their surroundings, researchers have found.
The new study examined the link between ego and how people look after the environment, finding that mindful activities helped boost a sense of connectivity.
Activities such as walking and bird watching not only draw on the richness of nature, but also improve connectedness, encouraging people to look after it, the researchers found.
Taking part in these types of activities makes people feel more connected to their natural surroundings. In turn, this makes people less individualistic and ego-driven, and more likely to choose behaviours such as planting trees, picking up litter and traveling sustainably.
Professor Tom Oliver, Research Dean for Environment at the University of Reading, said: “Claiming that meditation can save the world might sound like hippy claptrap, but this study draws on a range of strong scientific evidence that shows by working on our self-identity we can help to encourage nature restoration.
“Expanding our sense of self-identity to include others and the natural world creates an attitude of care and responsibility.
“The actions that follow lead to nature improvement, for example restoring plants and wildlife in our towns and cities, which then gives us further opportunity to engage and connect with nature.”
As people enjoy their surroundings more due to the enhanced environment, the cycle is repeated, creating what is known as a ‘virtuous circle’ that links self-identity and the environment, the researchers say. On the other hand, people who are more individualistic develop a ‘dog-eat-dog’ attitude and can get stuck in a ‘vicious circle’ of decline, they say.
The phenomenon also works at a government-wide level, the researchers found, citing US policies to cut environmental protection laws leading to greater isolation and increased environmental damage.
The findings are the results of a study carried out by scientists from the Universities of Reading, York and Surrey, as well as the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
Self-identity is how someone sees themselves and is made up of social and historical factors, and can vary substantially between different people.
After collating many studies across a large range of research fields, the researchers were able to test the expectation that self-identity and the health of the environment are linked in a dynamic cycle. They found that people who are highly individualistic - meaning they have a strong sense of ego - see themselves as more isolated from the natural world.
This means they might carry out fewer behaviours to improve the environment, such as recycling or reducing their carbon footprint. This behaviour at larger scales leads to plants and wildlife disappearing from towns and cities, further reducing people’s connection to nature.
The researchers, whose work has been published in The Lancet Planetary Health, suggest this ‘vicious circle’ is in play in many countries and is therefore contributing to current environmental decline. Pointing to ex-President Donald Trump’s ‘America First’ policy, the researchers found that changes to self-identity in national leaders might explain the damaging removal of environmental protection and reduced international cooperation, which is essential to solve problems such as climate change.
A safe and just operating space for human identity: a systems perspective is published in The Lancet Planetary Health
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