The Planner, 1974, Vol. 14, No. 53. Pp. 52-62.

(With five post-publication addenda following the original article)


By: John Ray

University of New South Wales


An Australian environmentalism scale has been developed. A pool of 77 items was written to tap all aspects of the phenomenon and this was administered to a population sample of 100. A reduced form of the pool was derived of only 20 items. This scale showed a reliability of .85 and a correlation with the full pool of .901. Contrary to expectation it did not correlate with education or occupational status. It correlated .317 with political radicalism, -.173 with neuroticism and .097 with extraversion.

There can be no doubt that environmentalism has emerged as an important modern political catch-cry. It seems to be something that practically everyone is in favour of, though some are more messianic than others. If it is true that social scientists are properly characterized by a "de-bunking" style of thought (Berger 1963), this widespread consensus should intrinsically be grounds for some skepticism. Skepticism, however, is hollow indeed without some facts and data to support it, A large part of this data must inevitably come from the realm of economics - which is probably the discipline in the best position to judge the immediate macro-social impact of widespread implementation of environmentalist programmes. Psychology also however must have some contribution to make. Experience in the study of previous social movements must offer at least some hypotheses about the sudden birth of such a powerful infant.

Following in the well-worn path so notably laid down by Adorno, Frenkel-Brunswik, Levinson & Sanford (1950) in their study of Fascism, it is desired to investigate the hypothesis that at least some of the attraction of the movement stems from its offering satisfiers that are particularly potent for certain personality types. The present paper, however, is only a first stage in such a large programme. Here it is hoped to first establish an appropriate scale and then in a preliminary way examine some of the basic questions that suggest themselves in connection with this hypothesis.

One of the most fascinating questions about environmentalism is its relationship to general political conservatism. The conventional account of conservatism as opposition to innovation (e.g., Lentz, 1935) should leave no doubt about the matter. Environmentalists are not only opposed to further innovation in the ongoing direction but are actually reactionaries: They want a change back to an often romanticized former State. Their idea of the good life is startlingly similar to Hitler's. The racial criteria for eligibility are missing but the idea of returning to an idealized primitive and "tribal" past with less materialistic values and an agricultural cum hunting economy seem often to be held in common. By all accounts then, environmentalists should be extreme conservatives.

The trouble is, however, that environmentalists seem generally to be people we would otherwise like to call "progressive" or even "Leftist". It is certainly true that the more leftist of our political parties seem to have made most capital out of the environment issue. Why are our traditional conservatives not rallying to and even leading the cause?

Answers to this question spring readily enough to mind but what seems really needed before discussion can proceed is some solid psychological data on the basic question: Is the relationship in fact in the apparent direction and what is its magnitude? There are strong reasons to suspect inferences about people's attitudes that are drawn from the nature of the political system, We have, for instance, Lipset's (1960) well-known paradox that although working-class-based political parties may support humanitarian and small 'l' liberal legislation, the workers themselves generally have punitive and "authoritarian" attitudes. Proof then is needed if we are to believe the apparently paradoxical observation that conservationists are not conservative.

Another fundamental test that suggests itself concerning what motivates one to be more or less environmentalist is to see whether environmentalism is associated with already familiar personality traits. Perhaps the two most familiar such traits are extraversion and neuroticism. Eysenck. & Eysenck (1969) have produced evidence that these traits are the two most basic parameters of personality description so they do recommend themselves as a first test of the relationship between personality and environmentalist attitudes. It is not hard to formulate hypotheses about the likely nature of any relationship. One could, for instance, argue that commitment to a popular cause is more likely to go with extraversion and that protest of any sort is more likely to go with neuroticism.

A final matter is the much remarked relationship between environmentalism and middle class identity. It. is often argued that clean air is a luxury sought only by those who already have everything else. When you are poor, other economic concerns are much more immediate. A question here however is whether this is an economic matter or an educational one. While the membership of environmentalist movements does seem to be strongly middle class, there is also a strong apparent tendency for it to be more highly educated. Is it then education, affluence or both that makes one pro-environmentalist?

Before any of these questions can be answered, a suitable way of measuring environmentalism has to be found and that is seen as the primary contribution of the present paper. In the political debates of the day, environmentalism is a many-faceted phenomenon and there is a real question as to whether there is such a thing as a consistently environmentalist stance. It could be that the people who support the retention of old buildings and the people who oppose the slaughter of kangaroos are entirely different persons. Some evidence on this question needs to be gathered.


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. 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 organization. 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.


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 program ITRA (Ray, 1972c) 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 scone 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 the appendix.

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


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". Conversely, people who believed that "Jet aircraft are worth all the noise and pollution they create" and "Australia is the last country that should worry about over-population" also tended to believe that "Now that both America, and Britain have pulled out of Asia, Australia needs more than ever to have strong armed forces of her own" and "Vietnam would not be free today if the West had not gone to her aid".

There are two possible interpretations of this finding: that opposition to innovation and reverence for things past is not in fact characteristic of conservatism and that environmentalism has become the cause of those who are in search of a cause.

The first proposition at first sight seems inevitably wrong. In fact it almost seems to be untrue by definition. If conservatism is not opposition to innovation what is it? On reflection, however, it should be seen that the concept of opposition to innovation is in fact a rather dubious one. It is so general as to be almost like claiming that a man could have an "attitude to events". Surely it is what type of change or what type of event that one favours that characterizes one. There is in fact some empirical support for this view that attitude to innovation is specific rather than general. Although items designed around the concept of attitude to innovation as a general trait were found to form a moderately successful scale among students (Ray, 1972a), a similar attempt using a more representative sample failed abjectly (Ray, 1972b) indicating that there was little or no tendency for the items used to correlate with one another. Nonetheless, this latter finding is sufficiently unusual to be regarded as in need of much further investigation and evaluation than could be attempted here.

If opposition to innovation is to be questioned as the essential characteristic of conservatism, what other alternatives are there? What is that constellation of attitudes that we conventionally call conservative? How can it be better characterized? The major alternative would seem to be a characterization of the conservative as someone who has a particular sort of attitude towards man -- what Burke (1790) called a belief in the "imperfectibility" of man. The conservative believes that man is born in sin, is not to be trusted, is innately aggressive, etc. This view has found support in research by McClosky (1958), Maccoby (1972) and others - who find that conservatives are what could be called "misanthropic". Without going into further details of this view, however, it should be already quite clear that it helps us little in explaining why conservatives are not environmentalist. There is probably no more misanthropic slogan on our current political scene than the Z.P.G. slogan "People are pollution" and attitude to population growth items did emerge as strong environmentalism items in the present study. It would appear, then, that environmentalists and conservatives share a negative attitude towards man -- though it has been argued elsewhere (Ray, 1974) that the conservative's attitude towards man is not in fact so extremely negative as to really warrant the epithet. "misanthropic". On any theoretical grounds, then, we should be able to expect that conservatism and environmentalism would correlate positively -- whether conservatism is conceived as attitude to innovation or attitude to man. The fact that the observed relationship is negative forces us to the view that some other stronger influence is at work -- an influence that is strong enough completely to swamp and reverse the expected effect due to commonality of content in the two attitude systems.

The most readily apparent candidate for such an influence is the fact that both political radicalism and environmentalism share messianic elements. Both represent "causes" that people in search of a cause can seize upon. Both are concerned with creating a Utopia.


{Articles below by J.J. Ray can generally be accessed simply by clicking on the name of the article. I am however also gradually putting online a lot of abstracts, extracts and summaries from older articles by other authors so if an article not highlighted below seems of particular interest, clicking here or here might just save you a trip to the library}

Berger, P. L. Invitation to Sociology Harmondsworth : Penguin, 1963

Burke, E, Reflections on the revolution in France 1790 Any edition

Eysenck, H.J. & Eysenck, S.B.G. Personality Structure and Measurement. London: Routledge, 1969

Eysenck, H.J. A Short Questionnaire for the measurement of two Dimensions of Personality. J. Applied Psychology, 1958 42, 14 - 17

Lipset, S.M. Political Man. N.Y.: Doubleday, 1960 (Chapter on "Working - class authoritarianism")

Lentz, T.E. Jr. et al. Manual for C-R opinionnaire. St.. Louis: Washington University Character Research Inst., 1935.

Maccoby, M. Emotional attitudes and political choices. Politics & Society 1972, 2, 209-250.

McClosky, H. Conservatism and personality. Amer. Political Science Review 1958, 52, 27 45.

Ray, J.J. (1972a) Non-ethnocentric authoritarianism. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Sociology 8(June), 96-102.

Ray, J.J. (1972b) Militarism, authoritarianism, neuroticism and anti-social behavior. Journal of Conflict Resolution 16, 319-340.

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

Ray, J.J. (1974) Conservatism as heresy Sydney: A.N.Z. Book Co. (Introduction)


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



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 over-population
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 airconditioned 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 but 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

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, an 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 & 16) and four unclassified items (9, 10, 14, & 19) in the 20 item scale.

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 cant 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.


1). The printed version of this article includes the full list of 77 environmentalism items used above.

2). Being primarily a scale-construction exercise, the above article touched only very lightly on the apparent paradox that conservationists tend not to be conservative. It is only an apparent paradox for two reasons: 1). Conservatives DO support measured environmental improvement -- which is why all surveys show a high level of community support for environmentalism. 2). Although Leftist political psychologists seem generally to be unaware of it, from Edmund Burke onwards, conservatives have never been opposed to change as such -- only incautious and precipitate change. They in fact favour change that can be shown to be generally beneficial in improving people's lives. And for that reason, conservatives have always favoured "progress" -- which sometimes puts them in conflict with environmentalists who often wish to halt or reverse recent scientific, technological and economic innovations.

3). More on conservative "misanthropy" can be found in the reference below:

Ray, J.J. (1981) Conservatism and misanthropy. Political Psychology 3(1/2), 158-172.

4). Subsequent articles to this one on environmentalism can be found as under:

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

Ray, J.J. (1980) The psychology of environmental concern: Some Australian data. Personality & Individual Differences, 1,161-163.

Ray, J.J. (1982) The construct validity of balanced Likert scales. Journal of Social Psychology 118, 141-142.

Ray, J.J. (1987) A participant observation study of social class among environmentalists. Journal of Social Psychology 127, 99-100.

Ray, J.J. & Lovejoy, F.H. (1984) Attitude to the environment as a special case of attitude towards all living things. Journal of Social Psychology, 123, 285-286.

5). SCALE FORMAT: 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). 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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