Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot
Container City: Shipping containers, indispensable tool of the globalized consumer economy, reflect the skyline in Singapore, one of the world’s busiest ports.
Studies have found that, after looking at nature scenes, people are kinder and more charitable. They’ve suggested that children with ADHD have an easier time concentrating when they spend time outdoors. A 2008 study even found that, for office workers, a mere glimpse of green through a window or a live plant on their desk were, on the whole, associated with lower stress levels and higher job satisfaction.
A new study published last week in Environmental Science & Technology underscores just how important green spaces are for our long-term well-being. When a group of researchers from the UK’s University of Exeter looked at five years’ worth of mental health data for 1064 participants who moved their residence during the study period, they found that those who moved to urban areas with more surrounding green space showed higher overall mental health scores—meaning that they were happier and had lower levels of anxiety and depression—for the very first year after their relocation compared to the years prior to moving.
Even more important, they found that these benefits lingered. Participants who’d moved to greener areas showed higher mental health scores for a full three years after their relocation, when the study stopped collecting data.
The data came from the British Household Panel Survey, a project started by Exeter researchers in 1991 that annually collects information on all sorts of socioeconomic trends from thousands of British households. By parsing the data, the researchers found 594 households that moved to urban areas with more green space, and 470 households that moved into parts of cities with less of it, based on residence addresses collected in the survey and databases of green space in England.
To guage mental health, the researchers analyzed the answers provided by the people in response to questions like “How much stress have you felt in the past few weeks compared to usual?” or “How hard has it been for you to concentrate in the past few weeks compared to usual?” Responses were collected periodically over the next few years.
After running statistical regressions to eliminate the influence of confounding factors such as income, employment, education and personality traits, they found that for three full years after their move, people in greener areas showed markedly better mental health scores compared to the two years prior to moving. This is a metric that not only includes stress levels and the ability to concentrate, but also the ability to make good decisions, a person’s level of confidence, overall happiness and other factors.
Interestingly, people who moved in the opposite direction—from greener to less green areas—showed the opposite effect, but for unclear reasons, it happened in the year prior to relocation. After moving, their overall mental health metrics returned to baseline levels, perhaps indicating that they moved because of a dissatisfaction with other elements of their lifestyle.
Regardless, the fact that people who moved to greener spaces experienced a bump in mental health that stuck around for years afterward is an important finding. As the Atlantic Cities points out, some psychologists believe that, regardless of circumstances, most of us have a baseline level of happiness regardless of our circumstances, a theory called the hedonic treadmill. We might briefly become happier due to various factors (like moving to a greener area), the thinking goes, but the thinking goes that ultimately we’ll return to the same innate level of mental health and satisfaction we’d have had otherwise.
But the new study suggests something different—that, when it comes to the level of nature and green space in our immediate surroundings, we can become happier in a long-term, durable way. If you move next to a park, the benefit for your mental health isn’t a novelty that goes away, but something that sticks around for years.
This is meaningful for people deciding where they might relocate next, but it’s also significant on a much broader level too. “These findings are important for urban planners thinking about introducing new green spaces to our towns and cities, suggesting they could provide long term and sustained benefits for local communities,” Ian Alcock, the study’s lead author, said in a press statement.
To hear more about the study in Alcock’s own words, watch the video produced by his research team:
Man Covering His Mouth: A shepherd by the Yellow River cannot stand the smell, Inner Mongolia, China
Angry Crowd: People jostle for food relief distribution following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti
“Black Friday” Shoppers: Aggressive bargain hunters push through the front doors of the Boise Towne Square mall as they are opened at 1 a.m. Friday, Nov. 24, 2007, Boise, Idaho, USA
Suburban Sprawl: aerial view of landscape outside Miami, Florida, shows 13 golf courses amongst track homes on the edge of the Everglades.
Toxic Landscape: Aerial view of the tar sands region, where mining operations and tailings ponds are so vast they can be seen from outer space; Alberta, Canada
Ice Waterfall: In both the Arctic and Antarctic regions, ice is retreating. Melting water on icecap, North East Land, Svalbard, Norway
Satellite Dishes: The rooftops of Aleppo, Syria, one of the world’s oldest cities, are covered with satellite dishes, linking residents to a globalized consumer culture.
Child Brides: Tahani, 8, is seen with her husband Majed, 27, and her former classmate Ghada, 8, and her husband in Hajjah, Yemen, July 26, 2010.
Megalopolis: Shanghai, China, a sprawling megacity of 24 Million
Big Hole: The Mir Mine in Russia is the world’s largest diamond mine.
Clear-cut: Industrial forestry degrading public lands, Willamette National Forest, Oregon
Computer Dump: Massive quantities of waste from obsolete computers and other electronics are typically shipped to the developing world for sorting and/or disposal. Photo from Accra, Ghana.
Oil Spill Fire: Aerial view of an oil fire following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, Gulf of Mexico
Airplane Contrails: Globalized transportation networks, especially commercial aviation, are a major contributor of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Photo of contrails in the west London sky over the River Thames, London, England.
Fire: More frequent and more intense wildfires (such as this one in Colorado, USA) are another consequence of a warming planet.