Oh, what a breath of fresh air! According to The Nature of Americans study published this year, over three out of four adults consider contact with nature as very, or extremely important to their physical health and emotional outlook. This may sound intuitive, but having concrete facts around this phenomenon is not only confirmation for many, but also encourages legislation and programmes to get people outside!

This study, led by environmentalists Dr. Stephen R. Kellert and David J. Case, surveyed 12,000 adults, children, and parents across the U.S. to investigate their interests in nature and barriers to contact with nature. The Nature of Americans study emphasizes the benefits of human connection with nature, while exploring the reality that humans are more disconnected with nature than previous generations (an idea also explored in this recent NPR article). If used effectively, their findings can push us towards a better tomorrow and beyond.

Since 1977, the Jane Goodall Institute has focused on environmental education and conservation, which stems from Dr. Jane Goodall’s passion for nature, chimpanzees, and all living things. Dr. Goodall has always expressed being “one with nature,” and it is through her Gombe experiences she shared with the world that so many others are able to also feel this connection. Protecting wildlife and their habitats by working with people is the vision Dr. Goodall gave as a gift to the Jane Goodall Institute, and our mission is to instill these values every day.

The Nature of Americans reinforces the hard work of JGI’s programmes like Roots & Shoots, which is comprised of compassionate, environmentally conscious youth in 100 countries all over the world. Roots & Shoots projects begin by targeting the needs of the members’ community in terms of people, animals, and the environment. The youth leaders then get outside and work together to solve problems. In fact, The Nature of Americans study and the advancement of Roots & Shoots are both supported in part by the Disney Conservation Fund, which provides funding to collaborative and innovative programmes focused on reversing the decline of wildlife and increasing the time kids spend in nature. One quote about our Roots & Shoots programme describes the impact of programmes that both protect wildlife and connect communities with nature:

I find these [Roots & Shoots] projects stop people from the daily grind and stress of school and living. It brings us back to nature and considering this project is so important to nature, it also made everyone aware of our problem with our bat population but most important how very important bats are to our lives. (Also, how we are stewards of this planet and every animal warrants our protection!)

One key finding of the study was that many people reported having meaningful social experiences in nature. Connecting with nature, along with family or friends, could be as simple as going on a walk in the neighbourhood or planting flowers together. GirlTrek, a non-profit for African American women and girls, organises walking groups in communities across the U.S. GirlTrek believes that getting outside and walking will improve access to safe walking places, and protect green spaces. Additionally, fighting for the right for everyone to experience the outdoors must be a top priority. Dr. Goodall recognises that only when you get outdoors is when you’ll understand the importance of the natural world.

When you live in the forest, it’s easy to see that everything is connected.

– Dr. Jane Goodall

A majority of adults surveyed through the study said that “authentic” nature was too far away, expensive, and inaccessible. In order for more people to feel one with nature, the definition of nature needs to be altered. Nature can be right outside your home or school. For example, City Blossoms is a nonprofit based in D.C. that serves primarily Latinx and African American youth to foster awareness and provide education for things like urban gardening. The organisation has provided thousands of families with access to green spaces and healthy food.

The Nature of Americans study reported that people really do love being outside, but they are blocked by time constraints and an uneasiness about being alone outdoors. However, growing programs like Roots & Shoots, GirlTrek, and City Blossoms inspire people to live active lives in nature and these types of programs are going to shape our future. It begins with each of us choosing to go outside, and getting others outside with us! The goal of the study relates to so many of Dr. Goodall’s sentiments. Dr. Goodall has said, “It’s not really possible to think about conservation unless you bring the people into the picture. It is where they live after all.” People want to be connected with nature, they just need to realise it is easier than they think. Only when people realise what is available to them, become involved with their communities, and take action every day, is real change possible.