I can’t tell you how many papers I have read about the sources of pro-environmental concern or attitudes. If we could figure this out then it could be easier to design information materials intended to encourage pro-environmental behaviours.
But there are a lot of factors at play. And they intermingle with each other in ways that increase the complexity and make it harder to influence. Peisker (2023) has added to the conversation by investigating motivating factors in European populations.
What I found interesting about this research is that it recognizes external factors. A lot of research focuses on the individual, what are their values and beliefs. But Peisker focused on societal factors. This is important because, as much as we might hope that individual changes are all that’s needed, that is not the case. Steinberg (2015) argues, it is social rules that need to change to achieve sustainability. Seeing how different societal factors impact environmental concern can help us identify what rules need to change.
The factors leading to higher environmental concern included higher education levels, greater income equality, higher income, younger ages, and a less greenhouse gas intensive industry sector (Peisker, 2023). Two of these are particularly interesting within the context of social rules: income equality and education levels.
It’s easy to say that achieving sustainability is dependent on particular choices, hopefully consumer choices for our capitalist society. But, although it is done frequently, we ignore social equity and norms at our own peril. The barriers to education are still significant. These barriers which can include costs, time, access, prior education, community and family support, among others, need to be addressed by society, not by individuals.
Inequality in education also contributes to income inequality, as does the aforementioned capitalism. This is another issue that can’t be addressed by individuals. It is a societal issue. If society is okay with CEOs being paid hundreds of thousands to millions while the “lowest” staff can’t afford to put food on their table and pay rent, the income inequality will be the norm.
I think this is why Peisker (2023) was able to find the results they found. Unlike the majority of studies I’ve read on causes of pro-environmental behaviours, this study examined the concern level and associated characteristics of different regions rather than different individuals. The result is that the research, at least touches on, discovering the social rules and societal structures that contribute.
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