Nature and pandemics: Empowering young people through positive story-telling

A project led by EJ Milner-Gulland is one of 18 across the University to benefit from the Social Sciences “Urgent Response Fund” that supports immediate impact and engagement work relating to the economic, cultural and environmental impacts of COVID-19.

The project, entitled Synthesising evidence on the links between wildlife conservation and COVID-19 for engagement with a neglected audience: teenagers and young adults, builds on EJ’s work with the Conservation Optimism initiative. It aims to engage with a global network of youth organisations to generate evidenced-based and hopeful stories that will help young people feel more empowered to act for a sustainable future.

“'The discourses around the relationship between COVID-19 and the destruction of the natural world, which are pervasive on social media, are often poorly informed by evidence and present a bleak picture of the future,” she explains. “Many young people are already under immense psychological strain as a result of the climate and ecological crisis, and COVID-19 just adds another layer of pressure, made worse if adult family members are not able to provide them with the confidence and support that they need.”

Conservation Optimism is a global movement that promotes positive stories of regeneration and change related to nature and the environment. Growing awareness of the climate and biodiversity emergency often coincides with a sense of “doom and gloom” and feeling of powerlessness. Sharing stories that offer a refreshing vision of the future brings the power of hope to provide motivation for meaningful action. The funding enables EJ to work together with multidisciplinary teams to generate new evidence that will give young people the information that they need – through the channels that they use – to understand better the relationship between nature and pandemics.

Through their Urgent Response Fund, the Social Sciences Division has awarded over £210,000 to enable diverse departments across the University to respond rapidly to the complex societal challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic. The fund supports collaboration and engagement with organisations beyond academia to develop evidence-based tools, partnerships, and evidence that strengthens research-based responses to the repercussions of COVID-19.

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