Environmentalism is not about being rich or poor

Sep 28, 2012
Environmentalism is not about being rich or poor

Higher and lower incomes make little difference to people's concern about the natural environment, according to new research from the University of Bristol. A paper published today in the European Sociological Review shows that, rather than having more important things to worry about, poor people and poor countries prioritise protecting the environment as much as do richer people and richer countries.

Dr Malcolm Fairbrother of Bristol's School of Geographical Sciences compared surveys from 78 nations in conducting the most comprehensive analysis yet of the relationship between income and environmental attitudes.

Previous research has argued that richer people are greener, but has been based on data from a smaller number of . Dr Fairbrother analysed data collected over more than a decade by the World Values Survey programme, which started measuring about the environment in the late 1980s.

Respondents were asked a series of questions about their willingness to pay money to prevent pollution, and about how serious they perceived different kinds of problems to be in their communities. People in poorer countries were much more concerned about local water and air quality, for example, while differences with respect to global issues like and were small.

Dr Fairbrother said: "The analysis looked at differences not just across countries at a given time, but also patterns in how environmental concern has changed as national economies have developed. Sometimes people talk about environmentalism like it's a kind of luxury good, which you can only really afford once you have enough income. But it turns out that's not true: as countries get richer, they don't get any more green than before. Even in quite , most people say the environment is important to them.

"And actually, there are good reasons why poor people and developing countries are so concerned about pollution. A lot of have big implications for poorer people. Think about the pollutants in the air around power plants and incinerators, for example, or about how climate change is leading to higher sea levels off the coast of Bangladesh.

"We all suffer the costs of other people's pollution, but the poor probably get the worst deal in terms of costs relative to benefits. So if many of them believe that environmental conditions aren't so good in their communities, and they like the idea of introducing charges for pollution, it's not a mystery why."

The study also found that within countries at a given level of development, people earning higher incomes said they were more willing to pay more to protect the environment—but only slightly, and on other questions there was no significant difference. People's environmental attitudes were less tied to than to their basic values with respect to financial security, stability, freedom and self-expression.

'Rich People, Poor People, and Environmental Concern: Evidence across Nations and Time' by Malcolm Fairbrother in the European Sociological Review.

Explore further: Coastal defences could contribute to flooding with sea-level rise

More information: esr.oxfordjournals.org/content… 012/07/27/esr.jcs068

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Wealth Does Not Dictate Concern for the Environment

Jul 25, 2008

It has been a long-held assumption that poor nations will not support efforts to protect the environment since their citizens are too preoccupied with meeting basic needs, such as food and housing. However, a new study in ...

Higher petrol taxes don't hurt the poor: study

Nov 29, 2011

Increased petrol taxation is a very effective instrument to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. A common argument against such a measure is that it hits poor people the hardest. Yet a new study by researchers at the University ...

Recommended for you

Tracking giant kelp from space

9 hours ago

Citizen scientists worldwide are invited to take part in marine ecology research, and they won't have to get their feet wet to do it. The Floating Forests project, an initiative spearheaded by scientists ...

Heavy metals and hydroelectricity

11 hours ago

Hydraulic engineering is increasingly relied on for hydroelectricity generation. However, redirecting stream flow can yield unintended consequences. In the August 2014 issue of GSA Today, Donald Rodbell of ...

What's wiping out the Caribbean corals?

11 hours ago

Here's what we know about white-band disease: It has already killed up to 95 percent of the Caribbean's reef-building elkhorn and staghorn corals, and it's caused by an infectious bacteria that seems to be ...

User comments : 0