Connecting to nature at the zoo: implications for responding to climate change

Susan Clayton, The College of Wooster
Jerry Luebke, Chicago Zoological Society
Carol Saunders, Antioch University
Jennifer Matiasek, Chicago Zoological Society
Alejandro Grajal, Chicago Zoological Society


Societal response to climate change has been inadequate. A perception that the issue is both physically and temporally remote may reduce concern; concern may also be affected by the political polarization surrounding the issue in the USA. A feeling of connection to nature or to animals may increase personal relevance, and a supportive social context may counteract political tensions. Zoos may provide opportunities for both sense of connection and social support. We surveyed over 7000 zoo and aquarium visitors to examine the ways in which a feeling of personal connection among zoo visitors may encourage concern about climate change. Results show that feeling connected to animals at the zoo is significantly associated with cognitive and emotional responses to climate change, as well as with other social groupings and social responses. Overall, the zoo seems to present a supportive social context for considering the topic.