Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

Ideological Impacts upon Environmental Problem Perception

Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

Ideological Impacts upon Environmental Problem Perception

Article excerpt

Introduction

Popular political culture in industrialised nations often portrays the environmentalist movement as being on the outer fringes of the left wing, and this perception has a reasonable basis behind it. Green parties entering government practically always do so as a junior partner to a party generally located on the left wing, and does go without saying that those parties do indeed fall on the left side of the traditional left-right political spectrum. That said, the same culture that places environmentalists on the left wing also makes it politically incorrect to be directly anti-environmentalist in one's political views.

With this paper, we offer a different perspective: that environmental issues are not exclusively the province of the political left. The focus of this paper is not support for environmentalist political parties. Rather, it examines the impact that political ideology makes upon a point that is more basic, which is whether a person believes that an environmental problem even exists. We contend in this paper that environmental problem perception cuts across multiple ideologies, and we further contend that perception of environmental problems cuts across ideologies and depends upon the type of problem at hand.

Perception of a Problem

Political scientist Harold Laswell postulated long-famous seven-step outline of the policy process, the first step of which deals with perception of the problem. This, in and of itself, is a step that can include controversy In that there can be disagreement over whether a problem exists at all, and if it does, as to what form it takes. As he noted in many of his writings--including a book bearing the name--politics is about who gets what, when, and how (Lasswell, 1950). He defined "elites" as those who are able to get the most from the available resources. However, whom the rulers happen to be depends upon the base value of the political system (Lasswell and Kaplan, 1950). Even in the system that purports to be a democracy, the actual rulers might not be the electorate, or the electorate might not consist of the masses. This having been said, a government operating within a democratic constitution generally will not act upon a political issue until and unless that issue is salient among political elites. At some point, those political elites will consist of those who cast ballots in general elections, and we can narrow this electorate further to those who have sway in nomination contests, such as the process of selecting party candidates to stand in parliamentary constituencies.

Generally, matters do not enter the public agenda until they are placed there through linking institutions, mainly understood to be political parties, interest groups, and the media. In order for these institutions to become aware that such a problem does, in fact, exist, individuals or groups must raise the matter. In the instance of a political party taking up such an issue, a member would need to bring a resolution either before the plenary or the executive and secure its adoption. We can assume at this stage that a similar process would exist for interest groups. For the media, this would take the form of a potential news story being brought to the attention of journalists responsible for covering the issue's beat area, either through a member of the public contacting the press organization or through a member of that organization conducting research on his or her own.

Prioritising Needs

Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs places the most basic needs for human survival at the bottom, needs that clearly would cause the highest levels of frustration--if not desperation--if they not met satisfactorily. These needs are material in nature, such as food, clothing, and shelter. As one moves up the hierarchy, one finds matters that are more abstract, relating to selfactualization. Failure to satisfy these needs will not produce the same levels of frustration, and as Maslow himself noted, their nature is more selfless than the more basic needs found at the bottom of the hierarchy (1970). …

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