The Contribution of Natural Capital to Quality of Life: A Multiscale Analysis at the County, Region, and Global Scales
Vemuri, Amanda Walker
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This dissertation uses a novel approach to investigate the contribution of the natural environment to quality of life (QOL). The natural environment is important to humans because we need raw materials from nature, we rely on the ecosystem services and functions the environment provides, and we relish the health-related benefits and aesthetic qualities that ecosystems offer. Using different scales and methods of analysis, the natural environment was found to play an important role in contributing to QOL. Telephone survey data from the Baltimore metropolitan region on life and neighborhood satisfaction were found to have significant, positive relationships with objective environmental variables (canopy cover, water quality) and perceived environment variables (environment satisfaction, number of trees visible from home). Life satisfaction data from national surveys of 50 countries were analyzed at the aggregate country level and found to have significant relationships with natural, human, built, and social capital. Regression models found that variables representing natural, human, and built capital could explain 72% of the variance in country-level life satisfaction. Finally, a dynamic model of land development in Montgomery County, Maryland, showed that environmentally conscious growth development policies, "Smart Growth" policies, were found to have a positive impact on QOL. Overall, this dissertation presents new evidence to suggest that the natural environment does have a contribution to make to satisfaction levels and to quality of life as a whole. Specifically, the natural environment has a direct relationship with neighborhood satisfaction and mainly an indirect relationship with life satisfaction. The data presented in this dissertation are novel because there is little if any other literature that combines the use of satisfaction data with objectively measured environmental data. This provides a missing link in determining the level of impact that the natural environment has on subjective measures of well-being.