Our relationship with nature - In times of crisis it is of central importance

The socio-ecological crisis is having an increasingly negative impact on our everyday lives. Nevertheless, so far there is little sign of the urgently needed societal change towards sustainability. Why is that? How can this be changed? And what role does our relationship with nature play in this context? Martina Artmann, head of the Leibniz-Junior Research Group "Urban human-nature resonance for sustainability transformation" at the Leibniz Institute of Ecological Urban and Regional Development (IOER), explores these questions in an article. It has been published in the open access journal "Ecosystems and People", forms an important conceptual basis for the work of the Junior Research Group and provides impulses for further research on resonance theory in the context of sustainability sciences.

The hypothesis that human alienation from nature forms one of the roots of current socio-ecological challenges such as climate change and species extinction is widespread. But how can a positive antipole of this relationship crisis in our western living world look like? Hartmut Rosa, Professor of General and Theoretical Sociology at the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena, assumes in his resonance theory that in a time of increasing acceleration, the relationship of humans to their environment is becoming increasingly muted. He proposes the concept of resonance as a positive antipole to this alienation. In her article, Martina Artmann has now translated Rosa's theory of resonance for the sustainability sciences and worked out what contribution the concept of human-nature resonance can make to a change towards sustainability. It was important for the researcher to make an integrative contribution to different forms of knowledge. “In my article, I explore how the idea of human-nature resonance can help us to better understand why there is a lack of effective measures to realise sustainable change. This is about system knowledge. I also explore the questions of what vision is needed for this change, what target knowledge is required, and how we can implement this vision, what action knowledge is needed,” Artmann explains her approach.

“In the context of sustainability, human-nature resonance means that we are touched by the negative effects of the socio-ecological crises and respond accordingly, transforming our exploitative relationship with nature,” the researcher explains further. In terms of the resonance theory, she assumes that the relationship between humans and nature has become muted. Humans see themselves as superior to nature. Nature is perceived as an inanimate object and a freely available resource. The fact that natural resources are finite, however, is faded out in this worldview, and nature is overused and destroyed without consideration. This destruction does not affect us humans but is seen as a normal state; the connection between humans and non-human nature is thus “silenced”.

According to Martina Artmann, the resonance theory offers a possible way out of this situation and thus a chance for a change towards sustainability. According to this theory, a resonant relationship is needed between humans and non-human nature. Humans must allow themselves to be touched again by the effects that happen to nature through unsustainable economic and living practices. Such a resonant relationship requires that humans and nature meet at eye level and that both sides can speak to each other with their own voices. In order to give nature a voice again and to promote human-nature resonance, Martina Artmann proposes the positive vision of human-nature partnerships. This vision focuses on values such as compassion and care and recognises nature as a living legal entity with intrinsic value. “If we internalise these values and recognise nature as a partner, then we no longer perceive sustainable lifestyles and economies such as less air travel or meat consumption as abstinence, but as part of a good life,” Martina Artmann explains. “Because if my partner is doing well, then I am also doing well,” the scientist emphasises.

How we can be touched by nature as a soulful and living being in cities and how human-nature partnerships can be implemented in urban planning and in everyday life in the field of nutrition is what the Junior Research Group is investigating in its further work. Martina Artmann's article serves as a basis for exploring human-nature resonance in the urban context more deeply.

The work of the Leibniz-Junior Research Group URBNANCE (Urban human-nature resonance for sustainability transformation) and the research on the current article is funded by the Leibniz Competition (funding number: J76/2019). With the Leibniz-Junior Research Groups, the Leibniz Association enables postdocs to establish their own junior research group at a Leibniz Institute.

Original publication
Artmann, Martina (2023): Human-nature resonance in times of social-ecological crisis – a relational account for sustainability transformation. In: Ecosystems and People 19(1), 2168760.

Scientific contact at the IOER
Dr. Martina Artmann, e-mail: m.artmannioer@ioer.de

The Leibniz Institute of Ecological Urban and Regional Development is jointly funded by the federal government and the federal states.

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