3.1. Quantitative Results
Descriptive statistics and correlation coefficients can be found in Table 1
. Engaging pro-environmental activities was significantly correlated with generative concern, loneliness, and gender (women scored higher). Pro-environmental engagement did not correlate with depression, however. In addition, number of children was negatively correlated with loneliness. Thus, gender and number of children were controlled in further analyses. As we expected, pro-environmental engagement negatively predicted loneliness (b
= −0.23, p
= 0.02) after controlling gender and the number of children (R2
= 0.10, p
< 0.01). Unexpectedly, there was no significantly direct relationship between pro-environmental engagement and depression (b
= 0.06, p
= 0.54). Thus, the mediation analysis was conducted only on the relationship between pro-environmental engagement and loneliness.
To examine whether generative concern mediated the association between pro-environmental activities and loneliness, we used Hayes’s PROCESS Macro v3.1 [31
], model 4, which is an observed variable ordinary least squares regression path analysis tool used for estimating direct and indirect effects. Direct effects were tested via 5000 bootstrap samples for bias correction and to establish a 95% confidence interval for the upper and lower limits of the indirect effect. As predicted, generative concern fully mediated the association between pro-environmental engagement and loneliness after controlling for the covariates of gender and number of children (see Table 2
). The direct relationship between pro-environmental engagement and loneliness was no longer significant (a full mediation via generative concern). Gender and number of children remained as a significant predictor for loneliness.
3.2. Qualitative Results
Using the Braun and Clarke’s [33
] qualitative data analytical procedure, three themes were identified: (1) Responsibility to teach the next generation about the environment, (2) deep appreciation for and connection to nature, (3) renewed agency through self-directed learning.
Responsibility to teach the next generation about the environment. Several pro-environmental participants expressed the importance of teaching pro-environmental activities to their children, so that these activities will not only carry forward to their children’s lives, but also create a sustainable world for future generations.
“I try to teach my kids about not just the recycling but the composting and the green bin and the importance of how it all fits together and to make the world a better place for them, and when they have kids and their kids.”
(Participant #62) (Participant’s ID code was a random number in the original project.)
These stories connected environmental events and activities (e.g., recycling, conserving energy, climate change) via teaching and learning with their children. These pro-environmental stories increased expectations regarding the quality of the bond and the sense of belonginess with one’s children in later life. These intergenerational responsibilities may promote well-being, as expressed by the following participants:
“I do what I can do so that I can have a better life in this world… my offspring and my offsprings’ offspring, so I do my part.”
“I’m committed to do something about climate change, and I hope that I don’t have to apologize too much to my grandkids about it.”
“I think more not for myself but sort of looking at my kids and wondering how things will be as they grow up and then their children and sort of more in a long-term scale. Like what can I be doing now to ensure that things aren’t incredibly messed up for them as they get older. So just started to do research into clean energy, climate, like pollution control, looking at alternative energies, things like that.”
(Participant # 186)
Deep appreciation for and connection to nature. Another mechanism that connected pro-environmental engagement and well-being, through generative concern, is a connection to nature.
“I enjoy going out there and my brothers and I would ride our bikes out there... part of that is monitoring for areas of high amounts of road kill so that we can provide passage for those creatures so that there isn’t that road kill, that we don’t lose them and that there’s no more frog pavement. So, it was a different time and now people care about the frogs, so it’s part of everything we do now.”
“We spent a lot of time on site at xxx in the tailings ponds, which are these big… So we’re spending a lot of time sampling those and it was just the smell combined with just the scene of desolation… if you ever see wildlife that’s struggling, you have to help it. You have to call someone and they have to come and help because sometimes birds will land there. It’s an important migratory route and so they get confused and they land in these ponds and they can get, well, they can die.”
“It wasn’t until after I got back from Guatemala, a hurricane hit the community where I had been, and there were mudslides and people died. I had never been, so closely impacted by climate change, because it’s kind of an abstract kind of environmental issue, it was a moment of clarity where I thought that is the environmental issue that I want to work on… the earth is hurting, there’s no lack of environmental tragedies. But it wasn’t until I knew people that had been impacted by it, that I thought, my God, if I can, if I have the luxury to pick what I work on”.
“For me, the impact has just been again, to try and appreciate every day what we have, and the fact that for so many people they didn’t, I mean one day they had everything and the next day they had nothing, so just sort of appreciating day to day… everything that I have and, I haven’t had to go through such devastating sort of environmental disaster like that.”
These stories illustrated connectedness with nature via outdoor activities in the natural world and personal experiences during natural disasters. Their experiences impacted participants’ views about nature in terms of concern for wild species and gaining a feeling of appreciation.
Renewed agency through self-directed learning. Another mechanism between engaging in pro-environmental activities and well-being may be conveyed via learning about the environment. For example, participants described learning activities that were directed toward the natural environment and how it impacted their personal views about nature.
“I am learning a way of sort of promoting new technologies that are gonna help to move us into a carbon-free society.”
“I’m very engaged in reading about different environmental issues, politically, socially, green political theory… ecological philosophy and environmentalism and I started to read all this stuff…it’s actually very much integrated into my life and who I am and what I find important and I’ve changed everything from the toiletries I use to the cleaning products, to how I spend my free time to the issues I care about.”
“I ended up going back to studying water quality and what I do now as my current job as an educator is to discuss natural resources like the oil sands, talk about their environmental impacts and try and help students understand that maybe there are other ways we can get our energy without having such a big environmental footprint.”
“I wrote poetry about animal rights and got in an animal rights book and it was just kind of a pivotal moment because I realized what effect humans had in the bigger picture, not just a human centric world but a complete environmental landscape. And I realized our impact and what we took for granted and really the interplay of the environment on humans’ lives and how we used it and abuse it and what we can change.”
(Participant # 714)
Other participants started with a negative belief such as helplessness and changed their attitude to searching for positive solutions as well as making contributions toward environmental issues.
“The negative sides of it, but here’s all the positive sides of it. And trying to say, okay here’s the problem but here are a few ideas of a solution. Or looking at climate change and saying okay, here’s the problem, but here are some ideas of solutions that could help. They may not fix everything, but help. So that’s more the issue, is his take on the environmental issues was only from the negative…Trying to find the positive things rather than just the negatives… understand the negative but then move forward with it.”
(Participant # 678)
“I was just happy that we were actually cause sometimes you feel like you don’t have a voice and you can’t impact things because the company that produced bottle water have so much more money than the companies that are advertising against bottled water and talking about how ridiculous it is and so I was feeling a little bit of obviously like satisfaction and redemption at being able to make an impact.”
(Participant # 706)