Loneliness, Isolation, And Climate Solutions: Is There A Connection?
Energy Innovation partners with the self-sustaining nonprofit Aspen Global Transpiration Institute (AGCI) to provide climate and energy research updates. The research synopsis unelevated comes from AGCI James C. Arnott. A full list of AGCI’s updates is misogynist online at https://www.agci.org/resources?type=research-reviews.
The U.S. Surgeon General recently made a stunning utterance proclaiming a national epidemic of loneliness and isolation. Alongside his pronouncement came a report with a spooky takeaway that lacking social connection can equal the health impacts of smoking 15 cigarettes a day. The report documents viperous trends: loneliness among young people has increased every year since 1976, and Americans wideness the age spectrum spend 24 hours increasingly per month vacated than they did in 2003.
Beyond health impacts, such isolation can erode a community’s topics to build social wanted and cohesion, vital capacities for responding to the shocks of lattermost weather and climate-related disasters. Surprisingly, the words “climate” or “climate change” do not towards plane once in the Surgeon General’s report, plane though it explores wide-ranging implications of and solutions for social isolation, including “natural hazards.” Several recent social science and interdisciplinary studies, however, have started to explore aspects of this connection.
Late last year, two health researchers from the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf, André Hajek and Hans-Helmut König, reported an association between climate uneasiness and perceived social isolation. They surveyed over 3,000 people living in Germany, using questions designed to test levels of loneliness, isolation, and climate anxiety. Respondents moreover provided demographic and lifestyle details, such as age, gender, location, and alcohol/smoking habits. When these factors are included, the survey data wringer found an undertone between climate uneasiness and both loneliness and social isolation. Higher levels of loneliness and isolation were significantly associated with higher levels of climate uneasiness for the overall population and for those between the month of 18–64.
Interestingly, the study found no significant undertone for respondents weather-beaten 65–74, and the very magnitude of undertone (i.e., effect size), plane when statistically significant, was low to moderate. Furthermore, while the study demonstrated a correlation, it was unable to explain whether loneliness breeds climate anxiety, or whether climate uneasiness or some other factor may be driving loneliness and isolation.
Even with these limitations, the extent to which climate uneasiness might depress whoopee on climate solutions—thereby fueling a vicious, self-perpetuating cycle—raises concerning questions well-nigh the broader relationship between social disconnection and environmental action.
Social Connection And Environmental Action
To get at this question, two Australian psychologists, Madelin Duong and Pamela Pensini of Monash University, examined the relationship between connectedness and pro-environmental behavior (PEB)––the deportment an individual may take to try to minimize or reverse negative impacts on the environment. Their work, which was published in the periodical Personality and Individual Differences, draws on an online survey of 632 Australian adults who self-rated their connectedness to their community, nation, all humanity, and nature. Respondents moreover answered 22 questions well-nigh whether they had performed various kinds of PEBs in the previous six months as well as 10 items aimed at understanding respondents’ underlying orientation toward “prosocial behaviors” (e.g., one item read “Having a lot of money is not important to me.”).
Based on the responses, the authors synthetic a statistical model to predict the likelihood of an individual performing PEBs (see Figure 1). They found that prosocial tendencies (described in Figure 1 as “Honesty-Humility”), withal with connectedness to nature, community, and humanity, are significant positive predictors of PEB; that is, the increasingly self-reported feeling of connectedness, the higher probability a respondent would have reported PEBs. Connectedness to nature was the largest positive predictor, but connectedness to polity was moreover significant. Interestingly, connectedness to nation was shown to be a negative predictor, plane though it was positively associated with prosocial behavior.
This study reinforces an intuition many environmental advocates may once hold––that a meaningful connection to polity or nature provides individuals a compelling sense of relevance or motivation to act. The survey results suggest that connection to one’s nation may not unquestionably facilitate, or could plane hinder, PEB. While these interpretations are interesting, the study diamond and context mainly construct a framework of PEB that requires remoter testing vastitude the confines of a single online survey in one country.
Social Factors That Shape Climate Vulnerability
How individuals are unfluctuating to their polity and the nature of polity cohesion moreover stupefy how people are impacted by natural, or increasingly human-made, climate disasters. A recent U.S. multi-author study in Environment International led by P. Grace Tee Lewis of Environmental Defense Fund makes explicit the social and polity factors that shape widely varying levels of climate vulnerabilities in the United States. Creating a “Climate Vulnerability Index” (CVI), the authors build on efforts dating when to a landmark 2003 paper led by Susan Cutter, which first attempted to map the social factors contributing to environmental hazard vulnerability (Cutter, Boruff, & Shirley, 2003). That paper created the first overly Social Vulnerability Alphabetize (SoVI), which explicitly considered how variables like socioeconomic status, family structure, and local infrastructure shape how communities wits the physical impacts of a disaster.
Tee Lewis and colleagues yank upon an updated version of the SoVI and numerous other datasets to formulate their CVI, which is intended to help pinpoint, lanugo to the census tract level, opportunities for investing in historically low-income communities, such as through the Biden administration’s Justice40 initiative, which prioritizes such regions to receive at least 40% of the benefits of federal climate and wipe energy investments.
The CVI incorporates 200 health, socioeconomic, infrastructure, and climate risk variables, including some specifically related to social connectedness, such as the number of societal and social organizations in a polity and self-reported mental health. When these factors are incorporated, plane areas that expect relatively lower physical impacts from climate change, such as many parts of Alaska, can still wits harm based on their baseline vulnerabilities.
Integrated geospatial datasets like the CVI are limited by relying solely on datasets that can be uniformly unromantic (and plane then, this study relies on sparse data for Alaska and Hawaii). But the CVI can help pinpoint potential social drivers of vulnerability in a specific context and thus inform increasingly tailored capacity-building actions. For instance, a squint into the top three most vulnerable census tracts of Harris County (encompassing Houston, Texas) express similarly upper levels of climate variability but owe their vulnerability to variegated combinations of health, socioeconomic, and climatic stressors (Figure 3).
Several recent studies featured here suggest that the impacts of loneliness and social disconnection may have uncontrived relevance for our individual perceptions and deportment on climate change. Yet there are real limitations to how we measure, collect, and unriddle this information to yank conclusions. These studies simply provide a starting point to consider how we might link snooping well-nigh loneliness and isolation, among other social variables, to climate action.
Doing so provides a real opportunity to consider the many opportunities for multi-solving, where one strategy or a combination of strategies simultaneously write multiple problems. Whether aimed at congruent root causes or solutions with multiple co-benefits, multi-solving may reveal novel configurations of ideas or interest groups, or new ways to deploy solutions increasingly efficiently. In the specimen of social disconnection tween a climate crisis, for instance, a philanthropist who wants to help restore local polity vitality could consider how such an interest might dovetail with local pro-climate solutions.
The Surgeon General’s report identifies six pillars to whop social connection:
- Strengthen social infrastructure in local communities
- Enact pro-connection public policies
- Mobilize the health sector
- Reform digital environments
- Deepen our knowledge
- Cultivate a culture of connection
Taken at squatter value, these provide many jumping off points to explore what kinds of resilient, well-informed, and wellbeing-enhancing climate solutions could moreover help restore connection and cohesion within our nation’s communities.
Cutter, S., Boruff, B., & Shirley, W. (2003). Social Vulnerability to Environmental Hazards. Social Science Quarterly, 84(2). Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1540-6237.8402002/full
Duong, M., & Pensini, P. (2023). The role of connectedness in sustainable behaviour: A parallel mediation model examining the prosocial foundations of pro-environmental behaviour. Personality and Individual Differences, 209(March), 112216. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2023.112216
Hajek, A., & König, H. H. (2022). Climate Anxiety, Loneliness and Perceived Social Isolation. International Periodical of Environmental Research and Public Health, 19(22). https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph192214991
Tee Lewis, P. G., Chiu, W. A., Nasser, E., Proville, J., Barone, A., Danforth, C., … Craft, E. (2023). Characterizing vulnerabilities to climate transpiration wideness the United States. Environment International, 172(November 2022), 107772. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envint.2023.107772
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