The past 50 years have seen huge losses and degradation of nature globally. As the latest Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) report starkly puts it, ‘nature across most of the globe has now been significantly altered by human drivers, with the great majority of indicators of ecosystems and biodiversity showing rapid decline’. Humans have altered 75% of the planet’s land surface, impacted 66% of the ocean area and destroyed (directly or indirectly) 85% of wetlands. From 2010 to 2015 alone, 32 million hectares of forest were lost.

Since the Industrial Revolution, human activities have had such a pervasive effect on the biosphere as to warrant a subdivision of geological time: the Anthropocene. The philosophy that supported the initiation of the Industrial Revolution is based on a separation between human and non-human beings, as though humans were indeed separate from the Earth’s functioning. In some traditions, humans have viewed themselves as separate from and superior to ‘nature’ for millennia, leading to valuing non-human life purely for its instrumental value. To this day, the anthropocentric distinction between human and ecological systems continues to define human development in western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic (WEIRD) countries and it is still a core assumption in how most countries conceive development and growth. However, the significant impact that the Anthropocene has had on biosphere functioning makes evident that such an assumption is flawed and the past, present or future actions of humankind cannot be considered in isolation from Earth system dynamics.

This instrumental interpretation of nature for human progress is the foundation of systemically unsustainable forms of development and habits. Unless this assumption is addressed and adjusted to the biological reality of the biosphere, the future well-being of humankind and all other life will remain in jeopardy. This paper discusses the reasons behind this nature disconnection and, presents an overview of the literature on human-nature connectedness (HNC), and its relevance for sustainability science. Based on this, some actions are proposed for repairing this relationship and reconnecting people and societies to nature.

This paper is part of a series that supports the Stockholm+50: Unlocking a better future report.