The Attitudes of People towards Nature

This topic submitted by Laura Baverman, Noah Applebaum, Michael Davis ( at 2:58 pm on 10/22/00. Additions were last made on Wednesday, May 7, 2014. Section: Myers

he Attitudes of People towards Nature

Laura Baverman
Noah Applebaum
Michael Davis

Lab Packet
For our student-generated lab, we decided to evaluate the attitudes of students attending Miami University towards their natural environment. While a great deal of research has been done in this area, we would like to expand it into our environment here at Miami. With Miami having such a beautiful campus, we were very interested in finding how many students truly appreciate this and would work to maintain such a positive attribute to our school. To evaluate this, we decided to conduct a survey among students observing their environmental values with respect to their place of residence (away from school, their “home”) categorizing it as a suburb, city, or country town. Our hypothesis infers that people living nearer to a city will have a more negative attitude towards nature and less of a personal relationship with it than those that reside in more rural areas. In our studies, we have come to conclude that a positive attitude towards nature can be defined as making a conscientious attempt to improve the state of the environment. A negative attitude towards nature, however, could be defined as making little or no effort to improve the environment and performing the acts that continue to hurt it.
Dating back into ancient times, the environment and the extent to which it should be observed has been questionable. As Holmes Rolstan III says, “Can and ought we follow nature?” (p.3). Today, views are very similar. Many people want to learn more about their environment and ways that it can be preserved but yet others still fail to believe in the importance of its’ conservation. The more that is learned about nature is the more pain and concern that seems to be brought into the world.
Contemporary environmentalism began in the 1960’s and 1970’s as public awareness of environmental problems was broadened by environmental events. “Environmental problems were increasingly viewed as (1) being more complex in origin, often stemming from new technologies; (2) having delayed, complex, and difficult to detect effects; and (3) having consequences for human health and well being as well as for natural systems” as Charles Harper claims in his book Environment and Society (p. 299). People were finally realizing that these problems not only effected the natural environment but also could potentially negatively effect humanity thus causing a burst of support for environmentalism.
Another theory explaining peoples’ want or need to be involved with nature and its’ upkeep is the biophilia hypothesis. Kellert, the author of this theory states, “The Biophilia Hypothesis boldly asserts the existence of a biologically based, inherent human need to affiliate with life and lifelike processes (Wilson, 1984). This proposition suggests that human identity and personal fulfillment somehow depend on our relationship to nature” (p.42). Kellert believes that all people are naturally inclined. They need to have an affiliation with nature in order to succeed and obtain the optimal level of self-value. John Barry in his Environment and Social Theory supports the biophilia hypothesis asserting that we have a relationship to the natural environment due to our genetic and evolutionary history. “….. biophilia is a sociobiological attempt to explain why we do have a genetic concern for the nonhuman world” (p.181). Therefore, according to the above sources, the biophilia hypothesis explains why we seek to have a relationship with nature and why we drive to conserve it.
Several studies have been done in the area of evaluating people’s attitudes towards nature. One of these is the Houston Child and Parent Study in which 24 black parents and their children from the city were questioned about their relationship with nature and its’ importance in their family. The goal of this study was to help characterize and give voice to black parents’ perspectives on nature and the importance of environmental education for their children. The results showed that 100% of the parents were aware of some environmental problems (75% air pollution, 71% water problems, 67% garbage) and 93% said that they helped or were willing to help the environment in some way. “In summary, parents spoke of their commitment to environmental issues and enjoyment of nature. Animals, plants, and parks played an important part in the lives of these parents and their families. Parents were aware of the negative effects of environmental problems such as air pollution, water pollution, and garbage” (p.126). This study attempted to show the role that city life played on parents’ environmental values and the role that parentage played on their children’s’ relationship with the environment. (Kahn)
Another approach to evaluating peoples’ attitudes towards nature is by learning about their heritage. Janna Thompson in her article Environment as Cultural Heritage argues that, “Historic buildings, landmarks, and environments can acquaint people with conditions in the past, teach them something about the aspirations and values of past people, or about important historical events and movements (…) Since people have an interest in learning about their history, the argument goes, the special educative role of heritage gives us good reason to want to preserve it” (p. 246). Thompson believes that peoples’ inclination to improve the quality of the environment comes from their heritage, the environmental values of their ancestors or tangible environmental memorabilia of the past. Jennifer Welchman in “The Virtues of Stewardship” also prescribes to this theory. “On these grounds, Leopold argues for the preservation of portions of the American prairie and other relatively “natural” areas as a living, interactive memorial to honor the courage, hardiness, and other pioneering virtues of earlier inhabitants (…) there is value in any experience, that reminds us of our distinctive national origins and evolution, i.e. that stimulates awareness of history” (p.419) By citing Leopold, she shows her belief that culture and ancestry have a large impact on a person’s environmental values.
We will now expand into the realm of our particular study. We found a great deal of research dealing with different locations' effect on the environmental conservation and knowledge. As Alastair S. Gunn proposes in his article “Rethinking Communities: Environmental Ethics in an Urbanized World”, “¼city is a culmination of natural triumphs” and “¼city opposes all environmental conservation.” Also from this source, “If inner cities were more pleasant places to live (which they would be if they were more natural), many more people would choose to live in them, thus reversing the suburban and exurban drift and repopulating central cities with people who have a commitment to maintaining a cleaner and more natural environment.” This backs up our hypothesis that people living in suburbs or rural areas are more conscientious of their natural surroundings. This article makes an attempt to persuade people living in urban areas to learn about their city’s environmental problems to work to improve the quality of life in it by environmental restoration.
To conclude, a great deal of research has been done considering the attitudes of people concerning nature. We have outlined a few approaches along with giving background as to interest in environmentalism in this introduction in order to establish the grounds for our study. We hope to find enough evidence through our survey method to develop our hypothesis further and make conclusions as to the difference in attitudes towards nature based on location.

Materials and Methods

1. First of all, we will look at other studies done on our subject matter and come up with a survey to accurately examine the differences living area has on ones feelings towards the environment as a whole.
2. Distribute survey, asking at least 100 random students attending Miami University questions dealing with their feelings and actions towards nature also inquiring what type of environment they live in (city, country, and suburb).
Please be entirely honest in your answering.
1. Do you recycle?

__________ yes __________ no

- to what extent?

______ extreme ______ moderate ______ not at all

2. When was the last time you littered?


3. Since you have lived in your home how many trees have you planted or uprooted?

_____ planted _____ uprooted

4. Do you chemically treat your lawn?

_________ yes ________ no

5. Do you have a compost pile at your home?

_________ yes ________ no

6. If you found a spider in your home, would you kill it or take it outside?

_______ outside _________ kill it

7. Do you prefer to spend your time outside in nature or inside?

_______ outside _______ inside

8. How many pets do you or your family own?


9. Do you live in a metropolitan, suburban, or rural area?

Thank you for your time and consideration, it is very much appreciated!!!!

3. Collect surveys and compare data from each person.
4. We will break the survey down into general categories (outside of city limits/ inside city limits).
5. We will compare the data we collect with previous experiments, similar to ours, and our preconceived ideas of environmental values (positive or negative attitude). Our group will analyze the differences and either prove or disprove our hypothesis.
6. We may try to do some type of mathematical analysis of our results such as a t-test or frequency distribution to test the validity of our conclusion
7. Post our results in the Final Lab Packet and share them with the class on our teaching day.

In evaluating the results of our survey, we will take into account the experimental bias that could occur due to our trust in the honesty of our survey participants knowing that people tend to make themselves seem better on paper.
We expect to find that people who live in the city limits will have a lesser appreciation for nature than those who live outside of the city limits. With the conclusion of our study and the receiving of our survey results, we hope to get a basic understanding of what affect one’s environment has on one’s feelings about nature and the things that inhabit nature.

Since we don’t present our project to the class for quite some time, we have yet to establish how we will effectively get our point across. We do know that we will go over the survey with the class and explain the questions and what they tell us about the environmental values of a person. We will also share our results with the class and our conclusion. We may have some sort of hand out or literature to give to the class based on our observations or on the results of our study possibly showing current statistics related to solving environmental problems. Through our presentation, we hope to give the class the reality of how much effort Miami students give to improving their environment and what role their location plays in this. We hope to encourage them to take a role in improving the environment around us and in encouraging others no matter what area they come from to realize the importance of sustaining the environment and take steps to improving it.

Literature Cited

1. Rolstan, Holmes III: Environmental Ethics Vol. 19. p. 3

2. Harper, Charles: Environment and Society: Human Perspectives on Environmental Issues copyright 1996 by Prentice Hill Inc.

3. Kellert, Stephen R. and Wilson, Edward: The Biophilia Hypothesis copyright 1993 by Island Press.

4. Barry, John: Environment and Social Theory copyright 1999 by Routledge 1.

5. Kahn, Jr., Peter H.: The Human Relationship with Nature: Development and Culture copyright 1999 Massachusetts Institute of Technology

6. Thompson, Janna: “Environment as Cultural Heritage”, Environmental Ethics Vol. 22 #3 fall 2000

7. Welchman, Jennifer: “The Virtues of Stewardship”, Environmental Ethics Vol. 21 #4 winter 1999

8. Gunn, Alastair S.: “Rethinking Communities: Environmental Ethics in an Urbanized World”, Environmental Ethics Vol. 20 #4 winter 1998.

Other sources not cited:

9. Katz, Eric: Nature As Subject: Human Obligation and Natural Community, copyright 1997 by Rowman and Littlefield Publisher Inc.

10.Viederman, Stephen "Key Issues Underlying Earth Summit II, Agenda 21, Globalization and Sustainable Development”,

11. Saito, Yuriko: “Appreciating Nature on Its’ Own Terms”, Environmental Ethics Vol. 20 #2 summer 1998

12. King, Roger J. H.: “Environmental Ethics and the Built Environment”, Environmental Ethics Vol. 22 #2 summer 2000

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