Cultural change and environmentalism

Cultural change and environmentalism

(Parte 1 de 3)

The evidence continues to accumulate: cultural factors exercise a considerable impact on public attitudes and behaviors toward the environment and the way the public frames environmental issues (e.g., DUNLAP, GALLUP & GALLUP, 1993a; INGLEHART, 1990, 1995, 1997; KEMPTON, BOSTER & HARTLEY, 1995; STERN, DIETZ & GUAGNANO, 1995, 1998; STERN, DIETZ, KALOF & GUAGNANO, 1995). In many cultures, fundamental value changes have evoked growing environmental concern together with public support for environmental protection. In addition to meeting the objective challenge of environmental degradation, cultural value changes have provoked public expression of concern and determined their willingness to make sacrifices and to undertake actions to help protect the environment. Research indicates that value change in particular cultural regions, for example northwestern Europe, gave rise to the highest level of environmental consciousness and environmental protection support in the world, despite the relatively low objective pollution level in these regions (cf. INGLEHART 1995, 1997). Gradual cultural change, associated with growing prosperity and material security, has generated publics highly sensitive to environmental problems.

But this heightened environmental awareness among citizens is only one result of cultural change. These same culture shifts are closely linked with increasing

*Globus, Institute for globalization and sustainnable development/IVA, Tilburg University, the Netherlands. **Center for Political Studies/ University of Michigan, e programa de doutorado em Sociologia e Política/ UFMG.

***Institute for Research and Intercultural Cooperation, IVA, Tilburg University, the Netherlands. Received in 13/09/2004 – Accepted in 08/10/2004.

Ambiente & Sociedade – Vol. VII nº. 2 jul./dez. 2004 energy consumption levels. Paradoxically, the growing public level of environmental concern and willingness to support environmental action is rising simultaneously with energy consumption levels and use of scarce resources. Values, too, play a major role in the development of this paradox. Research in many modern, postindustrial societies delineates that people place higher emphases on the basic values of personal freedom, personal development, and personal responsibility (e.g., ESTER & HALMAN 1994; VINKEN, ESTER, & DE BONT 1997). This changing motivational make-up, summarized in the term “individualization”, has strongly influenced human activities. Moreover, these basic value shifts have transformed entire lifestyles, consumption patterns, fertility rates, and household sizes. Compliance with the basic motivation to fulfill salient personal goals goes hand-in-hand with human behavior that places higher claims on energy resources.

This paradox is a classic theme in environmental politics. Political and policy interventions designed to solve environmental problems are unlikely to succeed unless they account for this paradox (cf. ESTER & MANDEMAKER 1994; ESTER, VINKEN, & VAN DER STRAATEN 1999). Understanding the impact of values and their influence on environment-related attitudes and behaviors is the ultimate prerequisite for the development and implementation of environmental policies. The identification of motivations underlying public support or opposition to a given set of environmental policies will indicate how solid or fluid this support or opposition is and will offer basic insight into considerations that may alter supportive or oppositional orientations. Thus, taking account of the cultural factor is essential both in studying environmental issues and in dealing with environmental problems. Providing policymakers and opinion leaders in the environmental arena with feedback on the cultural factor is one of the two main goals of the cross-cultural Global Environmental Survey (GOES) project.

Another major goal is to clarify a set of theoretical issues involving the linkage between environmentally relevant values, attitudes, and behaviors. Research carried out in many countries indicates that particular values directed at societal goals have a strong impact on environmentally related political action. Results show that these values exercise a more powerful influence on environmentally relevant political behavior than do particular attitudes (e.g., attitudes toward the severity and danger of environmental problems). A second line of research associates personal life goal values with pro-environmental attitudes and behaviors. Until now, these two lines of research have remained relatively separated. They have neither been theoretically integrated, nor have they been empirically tested simultaneously. The GOES project aims to demonstrate the overlap or complement of the two approaches in explaining environmentally relevant behavior. Moreover, GOES studies environmental behavior in a much broader perspective. Most of the environmental research projects that associate values, attitudes, and behaviors are limited to political action willingness. Only a few studies have examined the (direct or indirect) influence of values on energy use and consumer behavior.

Thus, the main focus of the GOES project is the impact of cultural influences on environmental attitudes. GOES examines the cultural impact from a

Cutural change and environmentalism – P E, S S H V basic cross-national perspective, investigating the impact of cultural change and value shifts on environmental concern, attitudes, and behavior in countries located on several continents. The main scientific tool applied was a large-scale, standardized questionnaire on environmental values, concern, attitudes, and behaviors. It was fielded among representative samples of populations and environmental decision makers in both Western and non-Western societies. First, we will examine trends observed in social-scientific environmental survey research in the last three decades. Following this, we detect important remaining questions that inspired the GOES project.

The interest for public environmental concern boomed from the 1970s onwards (JOHANSSON, 1995: 319). An increasing number of surveys, conducted by both commercial polling agencies and independent groups of academic social scientists, emerged, measuring public attitudes toward environmental issues. Since the late 1980s, the geographical scope of these surveys has widened strongly, covering not only advanced industrial and post-communist societies, but also developing societies or metropolitan areas within developing societies (e.g., the Harris UN Survey, Gallup’s Health of the Planet Survey, the ISSP-Environmental and Reap Module, and the World Values Survey). In some of these “global” surveys, environmental attitudes are of but secondary interest, and in other survey studies the measured range of environmentally relevant values, attitudes, and behaviors is particularly slim.1 In this section, which is by necessity a concise one, we deal with evidence regarding change in values, attitudes, and behaviors drawn from prime national and cross-national surveys that preceded and inspired GOES.

Simões (2001) describes how most survey analysts seek description, understanding, and explanation of the individual response to environmental change through an equation comprising values, beliefs, attitudes, knowledge, and behavior related to environmental issues. Central to the discussion regarding public environmental attitudes is the concern for changes in the quality of the environment at global, national, and local levels (DUNLAP & MICHELSON, 2000) and the impact of this concern on pro-environmental behavioral routines. Since the first Club of Rome report in the early 1970s (MEADOWS et al. 1972), the public has become increasingly aware of ecological problems emerging in modernizing societies (e.g., ESTER, HALMAN & SEUREN 1993). A wide range of subsequent social psychological, political science, and sociological studies focused on the relationship between environmental concern and environmentally friendly behaviors (e.g., offering willingness, environmental action readiness, likelihood to recycle, prudence in waste treatment, and inclination to change toward a “green” consumption pattern and lifestyle; see ESTER 1979 a,b; ESTER, HALMAN & SEUREN 1996; NELISSEN & SCHEEPERS 1992; VAN DER MEER 1980). However, results show that the parallel between environmental concern and pro-environmental behavior is not uncontested. Many studies indicate that individuals with a high level of environmental concern are not

Ambiente & Sociedade – Vol. VII nº. 2 jul./dez. 2004 necessarily characterized by strong adherence to environmentally friendly behavior (e.g., STEG, 1999). Basically, the attitude-behavior consistency depends strongly on the individual’s perception of control of the behavior in question (see such classic authors as BANDURA, 1977, 1986, and AJZEN & FISHBEIN 1980; see also BECKERS, ESTER & SPAARGAREN 1999). Behavioral control, related to the concept of selfefficacy, seems to be a major correlate of environmental attitudes and behaviors, although the relationship between these attitudes and behaviors is far from conclusively defined in existing research (see BECKERS, ESTER & SPAARGAREN 1999).

Concern regarding environmental problems is part of a structure of attitudes that in turn is based in values. Different environmental problems may touch upon different values; hence the public has the opportunity to demonstrate proenvironmental attitudes toward one set of environmental problems and contraenvironmental ones toward another set of problems, dependent on the value or values in which the environmental problem is based. One influential factor determining the relationship between public sentiment about the present or future state of the environment and the repertoire of environmentally relevant behaviors is, therefore, found in the domain of values. German sociologist Ulrich Beck penned the classic text Risk Society (1992), which addresses the relationship between public sentiment, environmentally relevant behaviors, and values. Beck linked the environmental issue to the very heart of the modernization process. In modern industrialized societies based on the logic of distributing wealth, he explained, environmental deterioration is seen as a “negative side effect.” The production and development of risks to global, supra-national, and nonclass-specific hazards is characteristic of postindustrial society, which is based on the logic of diminishing and distributing risks. Risks such as those associated with environmental problems were once considered side effects but now have become focal themes with which the public strongly identifies. Thus it has begun to strive for economic development under stricter conditions.2 The prerequisite for changing toward a “reflexive society,” a society in which people and institutions are less restricted by classical social divisions and can actively deal with the risks that are now in the center of attention, is a successful modernization in terms of material welfare for a large share of the population.

This line of reasoning is also found in the widely cited value theory of the

American political scientist Ron Inglehart (1977, 1990, 1997). Modernizing societies undergo a shift from materialist to postmaterialist values, according to Inglehart, and this shift is underpinned by rapid economic growth and the expansion of welfare states. Cohorts arising and socialized in periods of severe economic and physical insecurity emphasize materialist values in which high priority is placed on economic growth and political stability. However, younger generations are born under the affluence of postwar industrial societies. For these generations, self-expression and quality of life, both postmaterialist values, are given highest priority. In theory, these value emphases and priorities last throughout the cohorts’ life span,3 and generational replacement colors advanced societies in an increasingly postmaterialist shade.4 Strongly related to postmaterialist values is concern for a darker side of the old industrial society that

Cutural change and environmentalism – P E, S S H V poses a threat to efforts toward higher quality of life: environmental deterioration. Postmaterialists appear very concerned about the environment and are most willing to take action (e.g., INGLEHART, 1995; INGLEHART & RABIÉR 1986). However, Inglehart’s theory has met with extensive comments from environmental sociologists (e.g., DUNLAP & MERTIG 1995, 1996). They have especially questioned the alleged relationship between economic affluence and pro-environmental attitudes. Environmental concern, according to the critics, is not a luxury afforded only by societies characterized by economic security. They seek to show that, contrary to the suggestions of Inglehart and conventional wisdom, many correlates of environmental attitudes (including personal concern for environmental problems and economic parameters, such as GNP per capita) are negative or merely absent (see, e.g., DUNLAP & MERTIG, 1996: 155).5

One critic, Riley Dunlap, has hypothesized with his co-authors the likelihood of an emerging “New Ecological Paradigm” (DUNLAP & VAN LIERE 1978, 1984; OLSEN, LODWICK & DUNLAP 1992).6 This paradigm builds on the relationship of man with nature. Dunlap and colleagues observe a fundamental shift from a primarily technologically to a primarily ecologically inspired social value pattern. In this view, environmentalist attitudes are closely linked with other basic values: particularly religious orientations, cosmopolitanism, technological views, and political attitudes. Again, similar to Beck’s argument, these represent the public’s need to fundamentally restructure society based on ecological principles. Extending this link among basic human values, a number of American scientists, primarily psychologists, distinguished a number of stable and coherent value clusters that correlate strongly with environmental attitudes and behaviors (DIETZ et al. 1995; STERN & DIETZ 1994; STERN, DIETZ & GUAGNANO 1995, 1998; STERN, DIETZ, & KALOF 1993; STERN, DIETZ, KALOF, & GUAGNANO 1995). These clusters are derived from a values inventory defined by the social psychological value theorist Schwartz (1992, 1994). 7 The clusters range from homocentric concerns for the welfare of one’s self and family to holistic ecocentric perspectives in which human well-being is seen as inseparable from that of the environment. A number of differently labeled value clusters circulate, distinguishing among self-interest, concern for others, and concern with the biosphere and were eventually termed egoistic, altruistic, and biospheric, respectively. Stern’s high-impact Schwartz adaptations are used primarily on American data, independent of the work of Inglehart and colleagues. Thus we can assert that there are at least two autonomous lines of environmental value research: One centering on postmaterialism (Inglehart et al.) and the other on value universals or basic values (Stern et al.).

Knowledge serves as an ambivalent factor in the relationship between values, concern, and behavior regarding environmental problems. Several studies indicate that public understanding of such environmental problems as global warming is poorly developed (Dunlap, 1998; Pierce & LOVRICH, 1982). If the scope, causes, and consequences of environmental problems are poorly understood by the public, it may come as no surprise that there is both low awareness of these problems and minimal

Ambiente & Sociedade – Vol. VII nº. 2 jul./dez. 2004 concern for their impact. Effects of scanty public knowledge are, however, not undisputed (SIMÕES 2001), since correspondence between concern and knowledge is hard to interpret (BECKER et al. 1996, 19). Does knowledge generate concern, or does concern inspire the search for information? One might argue that information precedes the formation of attitudes and beliefs and is more directly related to values. Values, for instance, provoke people to seek information and may function as filters for information, influencing beliefs by making people accept information when consonant and reject information when dissonant with their values.

The subject of beliefs also comes to the fore in the debate about the public’s relationship to environmental issues. Values are criteria remaining relatively stable over the life course that guide action and underpin the development and maintenance of attitudes toward relevant objects such as environmental problems (cf. Rokeach 1968). Beliefs, however, are expectations about how the attitude object, the problem at hand, affects people and the things they value. Values are believed to be closely knit with beliefs regarding consequences for the valued object, and some analyses use products of values and beliefs only to predict behavioral intentions (see STERN & DIETZ, 1994). The distinction between attitudes and beliefs (not to mention that between beliefs as specific cognitions about consequences and knowledge) is unclear. In some lines of research, attitudes coincide with environmental concern, while in others attitudes are judgments of objects as functions of risks or benefits attached to those objects (STERN, DIETZ & GUAGNANO 1995, 1613). These risk perception attitudes clearly overlap with beliefs defined as consequence judgments for valued objects. All in all, the discussion presented here does not unequivocally suggest the existence of an optimal theoretical or analytical model for looking at the relationship between environmentally relevant values, beliefs, attitudes, information, and behaviors.

Three decades of scientific research into the environmental issue have generated many valuable insights, but perhaps even more unanswered questions. This section addresses these remaining questions. Indeed, providing an empirical answer to some of the following questions is the focal concern of the GOES project. Two types of questions have, until now, not been answered unequivocally. The first type of question deals with the mutual relationship between environmental values, between environmental attitudes, and between environmental behaviors. The second type of question focuses on an assessment of the impact these values and attitudes exert on behaviors.

Clearly, the previous discussion indicates that the relationship between environmental values, attitudes, and behaviors remains open to debate. Two lines of value research have developed: the ascertainment of postmaterialist values (emerging primarily due to generational replacement), and the identification of a comprehensive

Cutural change and environmentalism – P E, S S H V inventory of human values (of which some are profoundly ecological). Both streams of value research are at odds as to the underlying principle on which environmental attitudes and behaviors are based. So far, little research has integrated both perspectives or addressed the question of the extent to which the two overlap or complement each other. First, the complex relationship between concern for the environment and information about environmental problems remains unclear. Next, the relationship among perceived behavioral control, concern for the human role in the environment, assessments of the most significant player in environmental issues, and attitudes toward environmental protection must still be clarified. Perceived self-efficacy, the idea that the individual can effect positive change in combating environmental problems, seems to play a major role in this relationship. However, the exact definition of this role within the context of other basic attitudes regarding individual impact in environmental protection and basic attitudinal controversies in the ecology-economy trade-off debate requires urgent clarification.

Another intriguing area in environmental research is the importance of public willingness to act in the best interest of the environment, support for environmental policies that vary in individual cost and lifestyle adaptation, and effect of political orientation on the environment. The main issue at stake in this discussion is the ideological-political segmentation of pro-environmental positions. Finally, the concurrence of different behavior types among the public is highly indistinctive in environmental studies. Many separate studies deal either with “green” consumption, recycling and saving behavior, energy use, or travel behavior. An approach that integrates these behaviors and analyzes the overlap is scarce, and the search for a “green” consumer on all behavior types is a relatively recent challenge.

Assessing the impact of all the previously mentioned factors on proenvironmental behaviors in the broad sense mentioned earlier, is another intriguing issue. Little is known about which of the two presented traditions of value research has the strongest impact on actual behavioral routines and policy preferences. The relationship between values and willingness to take political action has been previously investigated (especially as concerns postmaterialism). However, the association of values and more profane non-political behaviors, such as saving energy or water and traveling by automobile, have not been previously surveyed. Findings concerning the relationships of attitudes, behaviors, and policy priorities under the condition of values are also vague. Moreover, the combined impact of values and attitudes on behaviors and policy stances relative to influences of other key variables, such as social structural or contextual factors, calls for further exemplification. Finally, defining a space that delineates the social and cultural dimensions and is based on elaborate input about values, attitudes, and social characteristics of environmental behavior remains on the environmental research agenda.

The Global Environmental Survey (GOES), a large-scale international survey project aimed to analyze from a comparative perspective values, attitudes, and behaviors affecting the environment, endeavors to tackle the aforementioned questions.8 It focuses especially on behaviors that exert a strong impact on energy

Ambiente & Sociedade – Vol. VII nº. 2 jul./dez. 2004 consumption, and accordingly on air pollution and climate change, as well as behaviors conditional to change toward sustainable development. These behaviors, together with values and attitudes, are measured among publics and elites in societies at various stages of economic development. A terminal goal of the GOES project is to provide input for models that forecast future energy consumptions. Thus, input consists of data on the cultural factor—the factor of shifts in values and attitudes that are primary molders of public behavior and that may close the gap between technical and social feasibility. Taking into account this cultural factor, the culturally determined considerations of the public, is a prerequisite for the public acceptability and subsequent success of policies. The key priority of the Global Environmental Survey is to gain an understanding of the motives underlying mass support for policies designed to solve environmental problems and behaviors affecting global change.

One innovative feature of the GOES project is that it deliberately moves beyond a mere cross-cultural study of population-wide environmental values, attitudes, and behaviors, aiming to compare the framing of environmental issues by national populations and by leading national environmental decision makers and opinion leaders. In 1997 GOES participants decided to add a decision makers’ module to the standard GOES survey of national general public samples. The new module enables us to study differences between environmental decision makers and general public attitudes and policy preferences in the environmental policy arena. The module further enables us to facilitate cross-national comparisons in this respect. The theoretical rationale underlying this module is closely related to the issue of political representation, a classic topic in political science theory and research. In one of the first studies in this field, McClosky, Hoffmann, and O’Hara (1960) found that Democratic and Republican leaders were far more divided on salient political issues than were their respective supporters, but that the level of political consensus among the electorate was fairly high. In a study of Dutch members of parliament (MPs) and voters, Thomassen (1976) found substantial political dissensus between the elected and the electorate; moreover, dissensus between party elite and voters was greatest among leftist parties. For most political issues, contrasts were more prominent among MPs than among voters, and voters were aware of these contrasts, albeit less aware than MPs realized. In a followup study, Thomassen (1981a,b) again found that the electorate was less politically polarized than MPs, and that generally MPs were more leftist than their voters. Putnam (1976a) summarizes these differences in the phrase “elite mass displacement.” This phenomenon of systematic and marked differences in political attitudes between the political elite and constituents has been widely confirmed, both in national and local politics (VAN SCHENDELEN 1981; STROMBERG 1977; THOMASSEN 1986).

Dekker and Ester (1988, 1989) hypothesized that attitudinal differences between politicians and voters may stem from insufficient or inaccurate knowledge among politicians of voters’ political attitudes and policy preferences. They found

Cutural change and environmentalism – P E, S S H V politicians’ knowledge of voter preference generally quite defective. Politicians’ accuracy in estimating voter support for topical political attitudes is low, even with respect to a matter as simple as judging which party has more support. This may pose a crucial problem for environmental policy-making.

Are the phenomena of elite mass displacement and cognitive responsiveness observable in the field of environmental attitudes and policy preferences? Some evidence suggests that this is indeed the case (cf. WORCESTER 1993; MERTIG & DUNLAP 1993). A systematic “global” contrast between how electoral masses and political elites evaluate causes and solutions to environmental problems, as well as a systematic bias in how political elites estimate environmental attitudes and preferences among the general public, would seriously hamper the effectiveness of both national and international environmental policies. Over- or underestimation of support for environmental policies by environmental decision makers would constitute a major constraint in implementing environmental strategies that correspond with the public “will.” In order for politicians to be effective in environmental policy, they must accurately perceive how the public evaluates environmental policy instruments, since public acceptability is a major prerequisite to policy effectiveness. It seems, though, that political leaders are often poorly informed about what issues, attitudes, and actions are supported by mass publics and relevant elites. The rise of nuclear power plants is a historic illustration of this conundrum. Hundreds of billions of dollars were spent to develop nuclear power, with the use of advanced technology. However, in most societies nuclear power was in the end politically unacceptable because of its social unacceptability .

Policies designed to solve environmental problems are unlikely to succeed unless they have broad political support. This in turn implies that decision makers responsible for environmental policy need an accurate understanding both of general public environmental attitudes and policy preferences and of broader social, political, economic, and cultural values affecting those attitudes and preferences. If decision makers lack this electorate connection, they face serious problems in convincing the public of the legitimacy of proposed environmental policies.

We believe it can thus be convincingly argued that a systematic (crossnational) analysis of environmental attitudes and policy preferences of both the general public and major decision makers, as well as decision makers’ cognitive competence in estimating attitudes and preferences of the public at large, will generate crucial explanatory factors in understanding environmental policy acceptance. Though, of course, the political domain has its own relative autonomy and responsibility, and though politics is not merely a linear transformation and translation of public preferences, an accurate understanding of public preference is highly decisive in designing effective and socially acceptable environmental policies.

Thus, in addition to the general national sample GOES study, GOES participants agreed upon an additional decision makers’ module that addresses the following questions: Do environmental decision makers hold environmental attitudes and policy preferences that are distinct from the public at large? How accurate are

Ambiente & Sociedade – Vol. VII nº. 2 jul./dez. 2004 environmental decision makers in estimating actual environmental attitudes and policy preferences among the public at large? Is there a systematic bias in environmental decision makers’ estimates of environmental attitudes and environmental policy preferences of the general public? Are there systematic cross-national differences in this respect?

A final rationale for inclusion in this module among high-ranking environmental decision makers relates not only to the cross-national nature of GOES but also to its transnational significance. In the last decade the international community has signed a number of international environmental treaties at various governmental meetings (such as Agenda 21, Rio de Janeiro Summit). The GOES participants agreed to investigate how leading national environmental decision makers evaluated a series of policies related to these treaties and how they evaluate their national policies to comply with these treaties. These evaluations provide us with exciting possibilities for analysis of compliance with internationally agreed environmental conventions from a global perspective. Thus, the final question to be answered by this module is this: How do decision makers value a number of policies that are direct implementations of international environmental treaties, and how do they judge their own national performance in this respect?

These, then, are the fundamental questions underlying the Decision

Makers’ Module—in the eyes of the GOES participants a highly original addition to the general public survey. A systematic comparison between environmental attitudes and preferences of the public at large and leading national decision makers not only enhances the theoretical significance of the GOES project but also strengthens its international policy relevance. It provides us with unique possibilities to study crossnationally the similarities and dissimilarities in environmental attitudes and policy preferences between the general public and environmental policy makers. In this sense, the GOES project moves beyond previous and existing environmental attitude research projects.

The GOES Mass Public’ Module conducted national probability surveys in Japan, the Netherlands and Germany; a probability survey in the state of Minas Gerais in Brazil; and quota surveys in three regions of China; in Manila in the Philipines and in Bangkok in Thailand.

The GOES Decision Makers’ Module conducted national surveys in

Canada, in Japan and in the Netherlandas; a survey in the state of Minas Gerais in Brazil and in six regions of China. The sampling procedure used was a non-random selection of individuals from business, media, NGOs and government agencies with impact on environmental policy making. The fielding of the GOES Mass Public modules took place in the period 1997-1998 and the Decision Maker modules in 1998 - 2000.9

The countries involved in this study vary strongly on a focal set of dimensions: country size, number of inhabitants, level of economic achievement and,

Cutural change and environmentalism – P E, S S H V of course, relevant environmental issues. The Netherlands is a small, highly modernized country, densely populated with 16 million inhabitants. The nation is very active in environmental policy-making, and in the international arena it endeavors to organize public support for its growth to sustainable development. Germany is also highly engaged in this type of environmental policy-making. It is much larger than the Netherlands, has a population of 80 million, and is a strong player in the global economy. Canada is also a highly modernized country, albeit relatively “empty.” Its population of 31 million occupies an enormous land surface with a much richer spectrum of natural resources than the two European countries. The lack of natural resources is a central issue in Japan, a large, economically influential, and densely populated country (126 million) with serious pollution and waste problems. Germany, the Netherlands, Canada, and Japan are confronted with totally different environmental problems than large developing countries such as China (population 1.2 billion) and Brazil (174 million) or the smaller, but also densely populated developing countries of Thailand (61 million) and the Philippines (79 million). Deforestation, desertification, land erosion, and air and water pollution are, together with stagnated economic growth, serious problems in these countries (and their urban areas).

In addition to size, economic achievement, and current environmental issues, these countries differ in basic cultural characteristics. The fundamental value distinctions evident among Western, South American, and Asian countries are strongly related to the political and religious histories of each country. The variance in basic values coincides with a divergent pattern of religious traditions, political customs, and civic cultures. Inglehart’s cross-cultural study (1997) shows China to be least and the Netherlands most postmaterialist (7 and 32 percent postmaterialist, respectively); other nations fall somewhere between the Netherlands and China, albeit closer to the former than the latter (INGLEHART, 1997: 359). The variable interpersonal trust, a crucial variable related to civic culture, shows that Brazil scores very low and China and the Netherlands very high in this area (INGLEHART, 1997: 359; see also FUKUYAMA, 1995). Comparative data on national cultures (with the exception of China), collected by Hofstede (1980, 1998, 2001), indicate that the Philippines, Thailand, Brazil, and to a lesser extent Japan differ from the West due to their strong emphasis on “power distance” (accepting unequal distributions of power). The Japanese also rank high in “uncertainty avoidance” (feeling threatened by uncertain situations), the Philippines and Canada lowest. The Dutch and Canadians value “individualism” (taking responsibility for one’s own affairs) most highly. The lowest “individualism” scores are found in Japan. Finally, “masculinity” (supporting assertive male roles and introverted female roles) is found most frequently in Japan and least often in the Netherlands (the Dutch are a factor 7 less “masculine”).


Rather than presenting an exhaustive summary of the main findings of the GOES study, we choose to focus on a selective number of substantive issues that

Ambiente & Sociedade – Vol. VII nº. 2 jul./dez. 2004 arise from our cross-cultural analyses. These issues are directly related to the very core of the GOES study: the way mass publics and decision makers frame environmental issues in general and sustainable development in particular, and the way environmental framing is rooted in basic social and cultural values. A stringent global sustainable development policy requires that not only national governments but also national publics are convinced of the necessity to redirect economic routes and lifestyles in consonance with the logic of sustainability, that is, finding the right balance between ecological, economic, and social parameters in which the legitimate needs of future generations have a recognizable place. The effectiveness of an emerging global sustainability policy depends not only on the willingness of national governments to ratify international environmental agreements but equally so on national publics’ acceptance of effects on their lifestyles and consumption patterns. Implementing global environmental policies, in short, will succeed only when based on unequivocal public support, particularly when such policies require fundamental lifestyle changes. Realization of a sustainable global future will materialize only when the public, as part of the world community, agrees that societal goals embedded in sustainable policies are legitimate, just, efficient, and feasible.

From this perspective it is gratifying to conclude that in all countries of the GOES study, national publics have a clear sensitivity to the seriousness of environmental problems both at the national and international level. People in various continents clearly rank environmental degradation among their top societal concerns and are very aware of the necessity to take action. National sensitivity, of course, varies with the characteristics of the national environmental context. In the Netherlands people are particularly worried about air pollution, water pollution, and overpopulation, whereas in Germany industrial pollution and river pollution - and not overpopulation - are seen as severe environmental problems. Canadians, too, view air pollution as a most serious environmental issue in their country. For Brazilians, deforestation and water/sanitation issues constitute the most important environmental problems, reflecting the fact that Brazil contains about one-third of the tropical forests in the world and still faces a lacking urban infrastructure. In Japanese society industrial waste, air pollution, and toxic chemicals are seen as the most pressing environmental issues, a list of concerns, by the way, that does not include overpopulation. In China, though, overpopulation is a clear public concern together with air and water pollution.

It seems that especially in developing countries the rather abstract notion of “environment” is increasingly framed as a quality of life issue linked to classic social demands such as poor sanitation, polluted water, and inadequate housing. In this way major existential problems are “relabeled” as environmental issues. This may explain why in developing countries water pollution is seen by the public as the major environmental problem, whereas in developed countries the majority of the public cites air pollution. Thus, contextual national environmental data are indispensable in understanding national public environmental beliefs. But what about perceived seriousness of global environmental problems such as global warming, the loss of biodiversity, and the ozone hole? Such problems go beyond the “classic” environmental

Cutural change and environmentalism – P E, S S H V issues, such as air and water pollution or noise, and by nature are long-term and abstract issues transcending national boundaries. Though they are not nearly on the level of traditional environmental issues, a substantial segment of the population, particularly in developed countries, recognizes the urgency of these issues. The existential problems associated with daily life in developing countries apparently hamper the preoccupation with more global environmental concerns. A certain level of economic prosperity is likely required for a flourishing global environmental agenda shared by the public.

(Parte 1 de 3)