Attitudes and Opinions

By Stuart Oskamp; P. Wesley Schultz | Go to book overview
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Environmental Attitudes

We travel together, passengers in a little space ship, dependent upon its vulnerable resources of air and soil… preserved from annihilation only by the care, the work and, I will say, the love we give our fragile craft.—Adlai Stevenson, 1965.

Mankind's true moral test, itsfundamental test (which lies deeply buried from view), consists of its attitude towards those who are at its mercy: animals. And in this respect mankind has suffered a fundamental debacle, a debacle so fundamental that all others stem from it.—Milan Kundera, 1929.

The goal of life is living in agreement with nature.—Zeno, circa 300 B. C.

Consider the quote from Kundera above. What is your attitude about animals? Or more broadly, what is your attitude about the natural environment? When you think about “nature” or “the environment, do you picture a pristine forest, or perhaps a quiet meadow with deer grazing? For many people, these are the images that come to mind. But these are romantic images, and unrealistic. Such views emerged only during the latter half of the twentieth century, whereas before that time, the natural environment was generally viewed as something to be avoided, or as a frontier to be conquered and tamed. It was dangerous, dirty, uncomfortable, and an obstacle to be overcome.


Before the 1950s, environmental problems were nonissues. Although public polls have been widely used since the 1920s, national polls that asked respondents to name the most important problems facing the country rarely turned up an environmental concern before about 1968 (Ladd & Bowman, 1995). For example, in a 1970 Gallup Poll, the Vietnam War was named as the most important problem facing the country. It was followed by a host of other social issues involving education and the economy, but fewer than 3% of respondents mentioned the environment. Yet only a few years later, environmental issues, particularly pollution and energy production, but also overpopulation and depletion of natural resources, regularly appeared among the top 10 problems cited by the public (Ladd & Bowman, 1995). Although levels of concern have fluctuated over the years, problems of the environment, pollution, and natural resources have often ranked close to other major issues like inflation, crime, and government corruption as central national problems for Americans (Erskine, 1972a; Dunlap & Saad, 2001; Saad, 2001a).

The time focus of the question can sharply influence how much concern is expressed for the environment. For example, the 2001 U. S. national survey that was summarized previously in Table 13–2 asked an open-ended question: “What do you think is the most important problem facing this country today?” The top responses were education (16%), ethical and moral issues involving family and childrearing (11%), the economy (10%), crime (8%), and health care (7%). Environmental issues ranked sixteenth, mentioned by


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