New Research On How COVID Has Changed Our Relationship To Nature

Both Fisher and Gould are quick to point out that their relatively small studies can’t be applied to the general population. “Do I think that our findings in Vermont stand-in for the globe? No way,” says Fisher. “But do I think places all over the U.S. are experiencing similar outcomes? Absolutely.”

Moving forward, they expect to see more research coming out that investigates how other global populations have taken to the outdoors for direction during a rudderless time.

When combined, these studies could make a compelling case for the mental health benefits of well-maintained outdoor spaces—and the need to make them more widely available moving forward.

“[The pandemic] showed how important having that access to nature is, even if it’s just in your neighborhood,” says Tatiana Gladkikh, a graduate researcher on Gould’s team. “That brings another issue of equity and justice.”

In the future, the team hopes to share their survey findings with government officials to stress the importance of setting aside natural spaces for the public to enjoy. (According to The Trust For Public Land, 100 million people in the U.S. don’t currently have a park within a 10-minute walk of their home—an outsized proportion of whom live in low-income, minority neighborhoods.)

Ultimately, only time will tell how this pandemic is remembered and whether it will go down as a turning point in how humans value and protect the natural world. In the meantime, all we can do is be grateful for the outdoor moments we do have; for the feeling of getting a patch of earth all to yourself, pulling down your mask, and remembering what it feels like to take in fresh air.

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