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The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Sociology, 1975, Vol. 11 No. 2. pp. 70-71.

MEASURING ENVIRONMENTALIST ATTITUDES



John J. Ray

University of New South Wales

Students of social movements have in recent years been presented with a bright new contemporary movement to study -- the environmentalist movement. The opportunity to study a movement while it is happening is one not to be missed. If our study is to transcend armchair philosophising, however, we will need to gather data on just who the environmentalists are and how people in general feel about environmental issues. In this paper some attack will be made on the initial difficulty that presents itself as we go about our study -- how do we discriminate environmentalists from non-environmentalists?

The approach favoured here depends on the assumption that we already know what an environmental issue is. Given this assumption, the task is to gather together a comprehensive set of such issues and see whether people do in fact respond to these in a consistent way. Are, in fact, the people who favour the retention of old buildings the same as those who oppose the slaughter of kangaroos? Is there in fact a single environmentalist orientation in people that unifies the many diverse concerns that go under that label?

Once the existence of a consistent environmentalist 'trait' in people has been established, one way towards measuring degrees of environmental concern is clear: The greater the proportion of our set of environmentalist issues on which one takes an environmentalist stance, the more environmentalist one is. This however raises a question of economy: must we interview a person on a hundred different issues before we know how environmentalist he is? An obvious requirement is to find out if there is a small selection of environmentalist issues which will adequately represent the whole. Are there a dozen or so issues which are quintessential to environmental concern? The present paper represents an attempt to make such a selection on empirical grounds.

Also examined here in a preliminary way are a number of hypotheses about what it is that characterises environmentalists. Are they younger, more middle class, better educated, more politically radical, more neurotic etc. -- as one might, on stereotype, expect?

Method [1]

A set of seventy-seven statements were written to express pro- and anti-environmentalist attitudes on all the issues of the day in this general area. There were 39 pro- and 38 anti-items. See Ray (1974) for a full list. They were made up into a questionnaire together with demographic questions, a set of political conservatism questions and the short forms of Eysenck's (1958) E and N scales.

The sampling and questionnaire administration were carried out by A.N.O.P. -- a well-known commercial polling organisation. Administration was door to door using a stratified random sample in the Sydney metropolitan area. The sample was limited to an n of 100 because of the necessity to cut down the length of the environmentalism scale before more extensive research was carried out. This study is hence of a pre-test nature and represents only the first stage of a larger investigation. An n of 100 was judged quite sufficient for the present primary purpose of scale construction.

Results

The coefficient 'alpha' reliability for the 77 item scale was .87 -- which indicates a substantial degree of homogeneity among the various attitudes in the domain sampled. The items were subjected to the automatic item analysis and deletion procedures of programme ITRA (Ray, 1972) and as weak items were dropped, the reliability rose to a maximum of .89 at the 51 item length. This, however, was judged to be still too long for a workable scale so further deletion was proceeded with. Finally produced was a balanced 20 item scale with a reliability of .85. Its correlation with the total score on the whole 77 items was .901 - which indicates that little construct validity was lost in the shortening process. The correlation between its positive and negative halves was .534 -- which indicates that there was little acquiescent response set contamination. The items of the scale are given in Table 1.

The correlations of this scale with other variables were as follows: Age - .138 (N.S.); Education .145 (N.S.); Sex .209 (p <.02); Occupation -.012 (N.S.); Political conservatism -.317 (p < .005); Neuroticism -.173 (p < .05); Extraversion .097 (N.S.). This means that environmentalists tended to be politically radical, were slightly more likely to be female and were marginally less neurotic. The political conservatism scale used is given as Table 2.

Table 1

An Australian Environmentalism Scale

1. When houses are built in a new area, they should be built around the trees -- not cut the trees down.
2. Our cities have become too big.
3. A landscaped garden is as good any day as a natural bush setting R
4. We should start planning now for a society without motor cars.
5. Australia is the last country that should worry about overpopulation R
6. Our modern highly processed foods are bad for our health.
7. It is bad for your health if you work in a place that is air-conditioned all the time.
8. Because they allow more people to get housing cheaply, home-units are a good thing. R
9. Our coastal islands should not be developed as tourist resorts.
10. Jet aircraft are worth all the noise and pollution they create. R
11. None of our Australian buildings are old enough to be worth preserving. R
12. The life of the big city is far more interesting than nature could ever be. R
13. It is stupid if trees are allowed to stand in the way of progress. R
14. Polluters are one of the worst forms of criminal that we have today.
15. High rise home units are ugly monstrosities.
16. Old houses should not be allowed to stand in the way of building more expressways for the convenience of motorists. R
17. India and China may have too many people bnt we still need more. R
18. For most people. large cars are just a wasteful form of showing off.
19. Non-returnable bottles and cans just create litter and should be banned.
20. The Australian bushland is boring in its sameness. R

Note: Treated as a summated scale with five-point response options for each item, the above items showed a reliability ('alpha') of .85, a mean score of 69.03. and S.D. of 10.95 and a correlation with the original 77 item pool of .901. The first twelve items alone may be used as a short form of the scale with a reliability of .78, mean of 40.89, S.D. of 7.02 and correlation with the 77 item pool of .867. Each item is scored 5 for 'Strongly Agree' except where it is marked 'R' - in which case it is scored 1. A midpoint ('Not sure' - scored 3) is allowed. There are two items on trees (1, 13), two on cities (2, 12), two on the bush (3. 20, two on population (5, 17), two on health (6, 7), two on home-units (8, 15), two on old buildings (11, 16), two on cars (4, 18) and four unclassified items (9, 10, 14, 19) in the 20 item scale.


Table 2

An Australian Political Conservatism Scale

1. Australia should never have got involved in Vietnam. R
2. If Australia doesn't attack other countries, they won't attack us. R
3. No-one should ever be forced to serve in the Army against his will - not even in war time. R
4. Vietnam would not be free today if the West had not gone to her aid.
5. The police are too brutal in dealing with anti-war demonstrators. R
6. The so-called 'peace-movement' is just a Communist front.
7. The Rhodesian whites should not try to prevent the blacks from taking over what is, after all, their own country. R
8. People here in Australia should do everything they can to smash Apartheid. R
9. It is no good us condemning the South African whites because we in Australia would probably do the same if we were outnumbered 4 to 1 by a less civilised race.
10. It is survival of the fittest in this world so if the South African blacks can't help themselves, they don't deserve to be helped.
11. Now that both America and Britain have pulled out of Asia, Australia needs more than ever to have strong armed forces of her own.
12. Two years of national service in the Army would do young men the world of good.

The above items formed a summative scale with a reliability ('alpha') of .68, a mean of 36.66 and an S.D. of 5.86. Scoring was as for the previous scale.


Discussion

The primary purpose here of producing a generally useful scale of Australian Environmentalism with high reliability has quite clearly been accomplished. The fact that it correlates .901 with a full set of 77 environmentalism items covering the whole field of topical questions in this area also means that it has substantial construct validity.

The correlations with other variables are also of some interest, although the n and the geographical range of the sampling were too restricted to claim that the relationships found are in any way final. In particular, the image of environmentalism as a middle class phenomenon seems to be clearly called into question. Neither years of education nor working in a non-manual occupation provided any prediction of environmentalism at all. This means that although environmentalism activists may be middle class, this is only a reflection of the sort of people activists tend to be rather than a reflection of how support for environmentalist measures is distributed throughout the community. It is particularly interesting to note that the mean score on the new scale was 69.03 (S.D. 10.95) - which falls clearly on the pro-environmentalist side of the scale's theoretical midpoint (20 x 3 = 60). This tends to indicate that environmentalism is in general favoured by the electorate. As far as the people are concerned, the environmentalist activists may have already won their battle.

The relationship with political radicalism was much more as was expected. It was shown that people who thought 'Our cities have become too big' and 'When houses are built in a new area, they should be built around the trees - not cut the trees down' also thought that 'Australia should never have got involved in Vietnam' and 'People here in Australia should do everything they can to smash Apartheid'.

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[1]. This study was carried out with the assistance of a panel which included Dr. Brian Crabbe, Messrs. Les Winton and Don Martin -- whose assistance I gratefully acknowledge.

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REFERENCES

Eysenck, H. J. (1958) 'A short questionnaire for the measurement of two dimensions of personality'. J. Appl. Psychol., 42; 14-17.

Ray, J.J. (1972) A new reliability maximization procedure for Likert scales. Australian Psychologist 7, 40-46.

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



POST-PUBLICATION ADDENDA:

1. Follow-up work to the above is listed here

2. What Australians call "home units", Americans call "condominiums".

3. Replication is one of the cornerstones of science. A new research result will normally require replication by later researchers before the truth and accuracy of the observation concerned is generally accepted. If a result is to be replicated, however, careful specification of the original research procedure is important.

In questionnaire research it has been my observation that the results are fairly robust as to questionnaire format. It is the content of the question that matters rather than how the question is presented (But see here and here). It is nonetheless obviously desirable for an attempted replication to follow the original procedure as closely as possible so I have given here samples of how I presented my questionnaires in most of the research I did. On all occasions, respondents were asked to circle a number to indicate their response.




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