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Journal of Social Psychology 1995, 135(2), 225-228.

ARE ENVIRONMENTALISTS RADICAL OR CONSERVATIVE? SOME AUSTRALIAN DATA



John J. Ray

School of Sociology, University of New South Wales, Australia

and

Geoff P. Hall

IQ Solutions Nationwide, Brisbane, Australia

Abstract

Existing research shows Environmentalists as Leftist. Existing research does however tend to show limitations either in measurement or sampling. In particular, it is not well recognized that answers to one question about the environment will enable almost no prediction of answers to other questions about the environment. The present research therefore used an environmentalism scale of known internal consistency and scales of three different types of conservatism. These were applied to a community sample of 299 shoppers in Brisbane, Australia. Environmentalism and conservatism were found to be essentially unrelated.



INTRODUCTION

In considering whether environmentalists are on the whole radical or conservative, a priori considerations are not clearly helpful (Wells, 1978). On the one hand, environmentalists clearly want to conserve many things (so are they conservatives?) but on the other they want to make radical changes to many existing practices (so are they radicals?).

The answer given in the literature, however, is fairly unequivocal. Environmentalists clearly stand to the Left of the political spectrum (Ray, 1974; Weigel, 1977; Buttel & Flinn, 1978; Iwata, 1981; Skrentny, 1993; Schultz & Stone, 1994).

Much of the existing research on the question, however, has clear limits. Either the constructs are measured in a very limited way (e.g. using a single survey item to index environmentalism or conservatism) or the sample has little if any pretence to community representativeness. The need for methodologically stronger studies is therefore clear.

The limitations of single-question measures should not really need recapitulation here. Stanton (1972) has shown that they may have more potential than is commonly conceived but the high levels of behavioral prediction obtainable from well-designed studies using multi-item scales (Ray, 1987) is perhaps the crucial argument in favour of such scales.

Multi-item-scales would certainly seem to be needed where environmentalism is being measured. In Ray (1974) it was found that a total of 77 varied questions covering a range of environmental issues yielded a coefficient alpha of .87 -- which seems initially satisfactory. This translates, however, to a mean inter-item correlation of only .08. The correlation of a single randomly chosen question about the environment with any other randomly chosen question about the environment would therefore most likely be .08 -- or virtual orthogonality. Just asking one question about attitude to the environment, therefore, gives us virtually no predictive power at all. Clearly, if we want to study anything non-trivial in this area, a careful and empirical selection of many questions about the environment is a minimum before research can proceed.

Even after empirical item selection, however, Ray (1974 & 1975) found that the most homogeneous subset of 12 environmental items (alpha of .78 and a correlation of .87 with the full 77 item set) showed a mean inter-item correlation of only .23. Environmentalism is therefore clearly far from homogeneous. People do display some tendency to respond consistently in a pro- or anti-environmental way but there is also a lot of unpredictability in their responses. Only carefully and empirically constructed scales can therefore lay any claim to measuring anything as broad as "environmentalism".

The measurement of political ideology also has many pitfalls. Lipset (1959) has presented arguments in favour of the view that conservatism on economic issues is differently determined from conservatism on non-economic issues and the vast changes in sexual morality in the era of the contraceptive pill would also seem to threaten the integration of moral issues into general conservatism. Could it be that questions about sexual morality are simply no longer relevant in this day and age?

It is hoped to present below some research results which embody at least an approach to dealing with both the measurement and sampling problems adumbrated above.


METHOD

The study was carried out in Australia so the Australian Environmentalism scale devised by Ray (1974 & 1975) seemed the most appropriate measure of environmentalism. The 12 item form was used but four extra items were added to allow for the possibility that the scale had become somewhat dated over the last 20 years. The extra items covered current topics that were not otherwise included in the existing scale.

When Ray (1974) previously reported on the relationship between conservatism and environmentalism in Australia, only a single scale of Australian political conservatism was used. On the present occasion, conservatism was measured not by one but by three scales. There was one scale dealing specifically with moral (sexual) issues, one with specifically economic issues and one dealing with the remaining social issues that are normally included in conservatism scales. These scales were empirically produced from a large pool of possible conservatism items and have been fruitfully used before in Australia. The items of all three are fully listed in Ray (1983). It was felt that the use of three scales rather than one enabled a more searching examination of any relationship between environmentalism and conservatism to be made.

The scales used were made up into a questionnaire which was computer administered to an available sample of shoppers at several shopping centres in Brisbane, Australia. A sample of shoppers is not of course completely random but is representative enough to be widely used in commercial market research. It is at any event much more diverse than the sample of college students or white rats more normally reported in psychology journals.


RESULTS

A total of 299 interviews were recorded.

The internal consistency of the Environmentalism scale was most disappointing -- with an alpha of only .52. This rose to .66 when the four extra items were included. Further results will be reported for the augmented scale only.

The internal consistency results here do then strongly underline the inadequacy of previous studies that have relied on only one or two questions to index environmentalist sentiment in the population. If even questions carefully pre-selected to be correlated with other environmentalism questions in fact correlate only weakly with one-another, how much less generalizable must be the results from less carefully selected questions?

The internal reliabilities (alphas) of the other scales were: General Social Conservatism .80, Economic Conservatism .62, Moral Conservatism .85. The results for the Economic Conservatism scale were quite disappointing but probably reflect the collapse of the debate over socialism in the post-Soviet era. Almost no-one now believes in State control as the highroad to economic wellbeing. We are almost all now what would once have been called economic conservatives.

The Moral and Economic Conservatism scales both correlated <.05 (.44 and .23) with the General Social Conservatism scale -- thus validating the notion of a single overall construct of conservatism to some (weak) extent. The Moral and Economic Conservatism scales, however, correlated only .04 (n.s.) -- thus validating very clearly the notion that all forms of conservatism are not the same.

The Environmentalism scale correlated -.132 with the General Social Conservatism scale, -.285 with the Economic Conservatism scale and -.131 with the Moral Conservatism scale. Given the large N, all correlations were significant <.05.


DISCUSSION

As expected from previous research, all correlations between environmentalism and conservatism were negative in sign -- meaning that environmentalists tend not to be conservative -- but the absolute magnitudes of the correlations are so low that what we are looking at is effective orthogonality between environmentalism and ideology.

When environmentalism and conservatism are both measured with some care and the sampling is reasonably random, therefore, we arrive at a conclusion quite different to what normally appears in the literature. As one would expect from a-priori considerations (Wells, 1978), environmentalists embody fairly evenly in their views elements of both conservatism and radicalism. The only surprise is that this conclusion is any way novel.

Further research in this area should presumably embrace more fully the fact that environmentalism is only weakly unidimensional and endeavour to use meaningful and reliably measured sub-sets of this construct.


REFERENCES

Buttel,F. H. & Flinn, W.L. (1978) The politics of environmental concern: The impacts of party identification and political ideology on environmental attitudes. Environment & Behavior 10, 17-32.

Iwata, O. (1981) Conservatism, community size, child-bearing intention and drivers licence as determinants of environmental concern. Psychologia 24, 157-163

Lipset, S.M. (1959) Democracy and working class authoritarianism American Sociological Review 24, 482-502.

Ray, J.J. (1974) Environmentalism as a trait. The Planner 14, 52-62.

Ray, J.J. (1975) Measuring environmentalist attitudes. Australian & New Zealand J. Sociology 11(2), 70-71.

Ray, J.J. (1983) The workers are not authoritarian: Attitude and personality data from six countries. Sociology & Social Research, 67 (2), 166-189.

Ray, J.J. (1987) The validity of self-reports. Personality Study & Group Behaviour 7(1), 68-70.

Schultz, P.W. & Stone, W.F. (1994) Authoritarianism and attitudes toward the environment. Environment & Behavior 26, 25-37

Skrentny, J.D. (1993) Concern for the environment: A cross-national perspective. International Journal of Public Opinion Research 5, 335-352.

Stanton, H.E. (1972) A comparison of two approaches to personality measurement. Australian Psychologist 7, 33-39.

Weigel, R.H. (1977) Ideological and demographic correlates of proecology behavior. Journal of Social Psychology 103, 39-47.

Wells, D. (1978) Radicalism, conservatism and environmentalism. Politics 13, 299-306.




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