Topaz Shrestha Journey for News Kashmir Magazine
News Kashmir Exclusive
Topaz Shrestha is an Irish/Nepalese PhD researcher from University College Cork (UCC), Ireland. Her area of expertise is in Environmental and Ecopsychology. She is passionate about restoring our bond to the natural world and equal access to nature for all. Her current work revolves around the interconnection between human and environmental health; climate change and psychological well-being. Specifically, she is exploring the relationship between our environment and well-being and how forming a strong connection to the natural world can enhance health and happiness while simultaneously forming the basis for environmental stewardship.
Growing up in rural Ireland, Topaz has noticed the profound effect of spending time in nature on her own well-being and the potential for this connection to support our intrinsic motivation to engage in pro-environmental behaviour. Research demonstrates a consistent positive trend between engagement with nature and improved physical and mental health outcomes. Moreover, the research emphasises that nature-connectedness is one of the strongest predictors of pro-environmental behaviour. Therefore, it is of significant concern that urbanisation, environmental degradation and the challenges of modern living are reducing engagement with the natural environment. A presiding narrative is that modern- urbanized lifestyles have diminished healthy human relationships with nature, resulting in many health issues and reduced well-being. Many of us seem physically and psychologically disconnected from nature, which has implications for both personal and planetary well-being. This disconnect is particularly evident within younger generations who are often deprived of direct contact with nature. Longitudinal evidence suggests that over the last few decades, contemporary youth are spending less time outdoors than previous generations (Chawla, 2015; Larson et al., 2019) and that this movement away from nature has had a negative impact on not only our well-being but has engendered an apathetic attitude towards nature that has perpetuated climate inaction and the destruction of ecosystems into adulthood. This wider movement away from nature is reflective of a zeitgeist whereby we perceive ourselves as separate from nature and engage in activity which has ultimately led to the climate crisis we face today.
The government and public health administrations are beginning to recognise the importance of proximity to and engagement with nature as not only a health promotion tool and a
determinant of well-being but also as a powerful catalyst for environmental stewardship. Recently, there is growing interest in this disconnection between humans and nature. This interest has inspired a movement towards a synergistic approach to addressing the climate
crisis in tandem with restoring our bond to the natural world. This interest is predominantly driven by young people who have recognised that they are not merely victims of the climate crisis but can be the agents of change and are subsequently integral to long-term efforts to create a more sustainable and equitable society (WHO, 2022). Young people are often most vocal in calling for urgent and ambitious climate action. According to mental health professionals, the array of climate-related emotions that many young people feel is reflective of their awareness of our disconnection from the natural world and compassion towards the Earth (Diffey, 2022; Hickman, 2020). This awareness and compassion, along with the unique perspective of many young people can act as a catalyst to promote nature-connection and help societies to mitigate and adapt to the climate crisis.
Topaz’s PhD research focuses on this topic. She is currently working on two interdisciplinary projects at the climate-biodiversity health nexus. Firstly, along with my supervision team made up of Dr Zelda Di Blasi, Dr Sarah Foley and Dr Marica Cassarino, she is carrying out an umbrella review which aims to synthesise the available evidence on nature–based interventions (NBIs). NBIs are health interventions which aim to promote health and wellbeing by bringing you physically and psychologically closer to nature. This project focuses mainly on the intersections of nature–based interventions that enhance mental health and wellbeing, while promoting the restoration of the natural world. This research has an impact at the intersection of two major global crises; mental health and climate change.
Nature-based solutions (NBS); solutions that are inspired by nature, are cost-effective, and synergistically have the potential to provide environmental, economic and social benefits for diverse populations. From her previous work, Topaz recognises that here is a need to consider the personal meaning that people hold for nature if we are to collectively respond to the mental health and climate challenge. Accordingly her second project revolves around the personal meaning that young people hold for the natural world – exploring how young people perceive, experience and make sense of natural spaces and what makes them want to protect it. At a foundational level, more research is required to understand how young people in varying circumstances and SES communities perceive nature, and what their relationship to nature looks like
Interdisciplinary research is crucial to addressing societal challenges, which are generally highly complex. This project which revolves around interdisciplinary collaboration – combining theories and hypotheses from youth work, conservation/biodiversity management and environmental, positive, environmental and ecopsychology – is in alignment with global objectives. The European Union has identified seven priority challenges where targeted investment in research and innovation can have a tangible impact. How we respond to these challenges, nationally and internationally, will be the key determinant of societal development in the coming years. Furthermore, this research addresses issues of health equity and environmental justice. Social inequalities in access to natural spaces and the quality of these environments is one of the biggest barriers we face, which has been echoed in our qualitative findings. The United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 11.7 proposes that “by 2030, [states should] provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces, particularly for women and children, older persons and persons with disabilities.” This project will help to achieve these goals by capturing the individual testimonies of young people which emphasise the need for equal access to nature and ensuring these appeals are shared with people in positions of power/decision-makers.
Additionally, this project aims to ensure that the voices of young people are amplified in a meaningful way. Currently, young people often only have a tokenistic involvement in climate discussions (Diffey et al., 2022; Arora et al., 2022). For instance, during COP26, numerous young activists felt they were involved in the event as a novelty but did not actually feel heard (Brown, 2022). Individuals of all ages and cultural backgrounds should have their lived experiences, opinions and experiential knowledge valued; and they should be encouraged to contribute meaningfully to the solutions we need (Diffey et al., 2022). We envision this research supporting an equitable transition into a society which is characterised by enhanced nature connection and a wider consciousness of our symbiotic relationship with the natural world. We hope that this project empowers young people to understand that they are not merely victims of the climate crisis, but rather they can be the agents of change at the forefront of a global movement towards a happier, more sustainable future. Further, this research may provide individuals with personal reflections on their relationship to nature. We hope that this research will encourage people to reflect on the reciprocal nature we have with the Earth and recognise how human and environmental health are deeply interconnected. This process of reflection and consideration of our connection with the natural world may help to empower people to feel more motivated in the fight against the climate/biodiversity crisis.
This intergenerational collaboration and knowledge exchange, across cultures and disciplines is essential if we are to tackle these issues which are pervasive on a global scale. Young people must be given platforms by governments, institutions and corporations to share their thoughts, feelings, needs and hopes for the future.
Link to Topaz’s Masters thesis, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health (IJERPH). This projected investigated the impact of our environment on vitality, mood and wellbeing. Findings indicated that one’s sense of
wellbeing is closely related to our immediate environment. This research provided insight into the multiple mechanisms through which nature can support human health and emphasised why as a collective we must think about the importance of protecting the natural elements that surround us and increasing people’s opportunities to access them. https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/18/4/2003
Link to protocol for current umbrella review looking at Nature-based Interventions (NBIs) https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2022.08.05.22278412v1
Topaz’s LinkedIn where you can connect with her: https://www.linkedin.com/in/topazshrestha/