Academic journal article Canadian Review of Sociology

A Multidimensional Analysis of Public Environmental Concern in Canada

Academic journal article Canadian Review of Sociology

A Multidimensional Analysis of Public Environmental Concern in Canada

Article excerpt

ENVIRONMENTAL DEGRADATION IS recognized as one of the top challenges facing the world today (IPCC 2007; UNDP 2010; World Bank 2010). In Canada, environmental issues have drawn considerable public attention. (1) Recent surveys indicate that 26.5 percent of Canadians view environmental degradation as the most or second most serious problem in today's world and that 70.6 percent of Canadians state that environmental protection is more important than economic growth (WVS 2009). (2) Moreover, 66.0 percent of Canadians think that the government is paying too little attention to the environment (ARPO 2010). This public concern for the environment is important as it provides a much-needed first step toward better environmental protection (Dietz, Dan, and Shwom 2007; Leiserowitz, Kates, and Parris 2006; McCright and Dunlap 2011). As Giddens (2009) has noted, policies designed to solve environmental problems are unlikely to work effectively unless they enjoy broad public support.

A wealth of cross-national research shows that environmental concern is rooted in a complex combination of social, economic, ecological, political, and demographic factors (Brechin 1999; Brechin and Kempton 1994, 1997; Diekmann and Franzen 1999; Dietz, Stern, and Guagnano 1998; Dunlap and Jones 2002; Dunlap and Mertig 1995, 1997; Dunlap and York 2008; Franzen 2003; Franzen and Meyer 2010; Gelissen 2007; Haller and Hadler 2008; Hayes 2001; Jones and Dunlap 1992; Klineberg, McKeever, and Rothenbach 1998; Knight and Messer 2012; Marquart-Pyatt 2012; Xiao and Dunlap 2007). Still, although considerable attention has been given to cross-national differences in environmental concern, few such studies exist on the Canadian case. The exceptions have focused on environmental activism (McFarlane and Hunt 2006; Tindall, Davies, and Mauboules 2003), on specific environmental behavior (Kennedy et al. 2009), on a single province (McFarlane and Hunt 2006; Tindall, Davies, and Mauboules 2003), on a single geographic area (Wall 1995a, 1995b), or are limited to group comparisons such as urban-rural differences (Huddart-Kennedy et al. 2009) and ethnical group differences (Deng, Walker, and Swinnerton 2006). In contrast, this study systematically examines a wealth of factors associated with Canadians' environmental concerns, including affluence, local and global environmental degradation, education, consumption of mass media, political orientation, gender, and age.

Moreover, in this study I treat environmental concern as multifaceted and examine several specific dimensions of this concept (Daniels et al. 2012; Klineberg, McKeever, and Rothenbach 1998). Previous research has tended to both conceptualize environmental concern as a single dimension and to assume that a diverse variety of measures can be used to operationalize that dimension. Researchers' tendency to apply omnibus measures and term various types of perceptions as environmental concern has frequently resulted in misspecification of models. Different dimensions within environmental concern may be related to various factors in different ways. For instance, Diekmann and Franzen (1999) in a cross-national study find that wealth and awareness of environmental threat are negatively correlated, whereas willingness to sacrifice personally to protect the environment is positively associated with wealth. The contradictory findings in the existing literature partly arise from this measurement problem, which "hinders the process of the cumulative development of scientific knowledge" (Ferraro and LaGrange 1987:70). Using the Canadian segment of the 2006 World Values Survey (WVS) data, I examine four dimensions of environmental concern--environmental threat awareness, priority of environmental protection, willingness to pay for environmental protection, and participation in environmental organizations. I consider how key social, economic, ecological, political, and demographic factors shape these aspects of environmental concern in Canada. …

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