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Climate state anxiety and connectedness to nature in rural Tasmania

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Materia, CJ (2016) Climate state anxiety and connectedness to nature in rural Tasmania. PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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Abstract

The past decade has seen heightened public discourse over the effects of climate change at a global level. 2014 was officially the world’s hottest year on record. In the summer of 2012/2013 Australia broke 120 extreme weather related records. In the Australian state of Tasmania, we are experiencing significant changes in the seasonal patterns of rainfall, winds and temperature. Increasing storm events are being reported as occurring more frequently and with greater intensity.
The physical health impacts of climate change encompass morbidity and mortality linked to increasing extremes in heat and cold, changing patterns in vector-borne diseases, new and emerging food and water-borne diseases, respiratory illnesses and mental health consequences relating to extreme and traumatic events such as bushfires, floods, droughts and other life-threatening climate events. Missing from the climate change and health literature is a comprehensive body of research examining the cumulative creeping health impacts of climate change. This research is based upon theories within the schools of ecopsychology and social psychology which support the notion that the way individuals interpret, experience and connect with the natural world and most importantly the stories they tell about the natural world and their relations and interactions with it, has an influence on health and wellbeing. A new and emerging body of research is drawing attention to diminished mental health and wellbeing resulting from observed damage and destruction of the natural environment. Diminished wellbeing is particularly prevalent amongst indigenous people, and those people living and working in rural and remote areas in close contact with nature, such as fishers and farmers.This research stemmed from the proposition that we as individuals are currently experiencing subtle, sometimes insidious and creeping, changes in weather and climate and that these lived experiences are having a detrimental effect on health and wellbeing. At present there is no research examining impacts on rural communities’ sense of connectedness to nature, and their health and wellbeing. This study and thesis contributes to this gap, proposing and demonstrating through its findings that the way a person experiences climate change and the impact climate change has on their health and wellbeing is mediated via the individual’s level of connectedness to nature.
Phenomenology provides the theoretical basis by which to understand the human lived experiences of connectedness to nature, climate change and its impact on health and wellbeing. The key purposes of this research were to investigate the relationship between connectedness to nature and community level climate anxiety in rural Tasmania, and to give voice to the lived experience of connectedness to nature and climate state anxiety through the examination of individual stories and experience.
The research was conducted in two stages using a ‘mixed methods’ approach consisting of two main stages of data collection. Stage One answered the research question, what is the relationship between connectedness to nature and climate state anxiety? 178 people self-nominated and completed a short survey and four psychological measures: Spielberger’s (Climate) State Anxiety and Trait Anxiety Inventories (STAI), the Connectedness to Nature Scale (CNS) and the Nature Relatedness Scale (NRS). This stage served three purposes which were to assess the relationships between connectedness to nature and climate state anxiety in rural Tasmania, to extend our understanding of the relationship between connectedness to nature and climate state and trait anxiety, and to identify participants [ClimateWitnesses] who are highly connected to nature and experiencing climate state anxiety for follow up interviews during the second qualitative stage of the research.
The Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS) Statistics was used to analyse the results from the survey and psychological measures. Findings from stage one indicated a significant correlation (r = .274) between climate state anxiety and nature relatedness and a significant negative correlation (r= -.221) between trait anxiety and connectedness to nature. This suggested that existing theories of connectedness to nature, being a significant predictor of health and wellbeing, may not be appropriate in the context of climate-induced changes in nature.
In stage two of the research, 14 participants from stage one, whose scores on the CNS and NRS indicated a high degree of connectedness to nature, and those whose scores on climate STAI indicated a high level of climate state anxiety STAI, were interviewed. A further nine participants were recruited using ‘snowball sampling’. The purpose of the second stage was to explore four Research Questions;
1. How do Climate Witnesses experience connectedness to nature?
2. How do Climate Witnesses observe weather and climate change?
3. What are Climate Witnesses’ observation of changes in nature, changes in weather and climate change? and;
4. How do these experiences impact on health and wellbeing?
The interview data was analysed in NVivo, the computer assisted qualitative data analysis (QDA) software programme. The typologies of cognitive, emotional and physical connection to nature were explored through the narratives of the lived experiences of the participants. These typologies were evident in the way in which the participants connected with nature, observed and experienced weather and climate and their expression of anxiety.
The thesis expands on existing theoretical models of relatedness to nature and health. It brings to light ‘creeping’ health impacts of climate change that sit outside the existing epidemiological, climate change mitigation, adaptation and health literature.
The conceptual model demonstrates that Climate Witnesses are experiencing their sense of wellbeing and health being compromised as a result of the perceivable changes in nature, weather and climate. The model is intended to facilitate a better understanding of the complex interaction between connectedness to nature, weather, climate and anxiety. Understanding this complex interaction provides an important starting point for negating the adverse psychological health and well-being impacts of climate change.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Connectedness to nature, relatedness to nature, anxiety, climate change, solastalgia, rural, state anxiety, trait anxiety.
Copyright Information:

Copyright 2016 the Author

Date Deposited: 02 Nov 2016 05:27
Last Modified: 07 Feb 2017 00:50
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