Why reconnect to nature in times of crisis? Ecosystem contributions to the resilience and well-being of people going back to the land in Greece.

Published online
17 Mar 2024
Content type
Journal article
Journal title
People and Nature

Benessaiah, K. & Chan, K. M.
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Multiple crises, including climate change, ecosystem degradation, economic, political and social upheavals, severely impact people's well-being. Ecosystem services (or nature's contributions to people) play a key role during crisis that needs to be further elucidated. Most research focusses on the material benefits that ecosystems provide in times of crisis, paying less attention to intertwined intangible, nonmaterial dimensions. Yet, these intangible ecosystem benefits are often crucial for people's resilience and well-being in times of need. We examine the role that nature plays for resilience and well-being in times of crisis through a case study of Greece's back-to-the-land movement during the European economic crisis. We conducted semistructured interviews with 76 households that had gone back-to-the-land to understand why people sought to reconnect to nature and what their experiences were. Our results show that reconnecting to nature provided material ecosystem benefits such as food and income often from previously undervalued ecosystems (e.g. abandoned orchards) as well as nonmaterial ecosystem benefits such as mental health, feelings of safety, calm and independence that helped people cope with the crisis and adapt and transform to new socio-ecological contexts. Participants reported that reconnecting to nature also changed their relational values. People mentioned gaining new perspectives, meanings and relationships with others and the natural world. While the crisis significantly affected people's material well-being, reconnecting with nature helped people cope with crisis but also prompted a profound reevaluation of what constitutes a good life, leading to changes in their subjective and relational well-being. This enhanced their capacity to act and plan for the future (their agency). Overall, our research emphasizes how reconnecting to nature and its multidimensional ecosystem benefits during crises can have transformative effects on individuals' resilience, well-being and their relationships with the environment. Our research shows that not only material benefits of ecosystem services need to be valued but also intangible, nonmaterial benefits that affect material, subjective and relational dimensions of well-being and resilience.

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