Trust and Public Support for Environmental Protection in Diverse National Contexts

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 10:57
Location: Hörsaal 50 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Malcolm FAIRBROTHER, University of Bristol, United Kingdom
Worldwide, most people share scientists’ concerns about environmental problems, but they reject the solutions policy experts recommend. Why? I show that this puzzling gap between the public’s positive concerns and normative preferences is due largely to a lack of trust, and particularly political trust. This is not the first paper to identify social and political trust as correlates of environmental attitudes. But, partly because of an overemphasis on statistical rather than substantive significance, previous studies have overlooked the greater importance of trust compared to other factors, and also the specific ways in which trust correlates with environmental attitudes. While perceptions “that humans endanger the natural environment” and a “willingness to protect nature” are in one sense twin dimensions of “environmental concern,” I show that in another sense these are quite distinct things. Based on multilevel models fitted to two international survey datasets, people who are trusting do not perceive environmental problems as any more serious, but they nonetheless attach more value to environmental protection. By some measures, the same relationship holds cross-nationally as well. Preferences about protection and policy are therefore far from determined by people’s beliefs and concerns. Meanwhile, an influential competing theory holds that support correlates primarily with left rather than right political ideology. The results here, however, show that this correlation varies substantially from country to country, unlike that with trust, such that in much of the world environmental protection is not a left-right issue (as it is, for example, in the much-studied case of the United States). In some places, if anything, it is a right-left issue.