North American Environmentalism and Political Integration

By Kanji, Mebs | American Review of Canadian Studies, Summer 1996 | Go to article overview

North American Environmentalism and Political Integration


Kanji, Mebs, American Review of Canadian Studies


Introduction

Recent scholarship suggests that, over the last decade or so, North Americans have undergone a widescale convergence in values: Americans, Canadians, and Mexicans have become more alike. (Nevitte and Inglehart 1993; Nevitte 1996, 1994; Inglehart, Nevitte, and Basanez 1996). The recent ratification of NAFTA, furthermore, marks a significant turning point for North American relations; it shows that while citizens of these three countries may not be ready to do away with political borders entirely, they are indeed willing to formalize closer economic ties. Taken together, these two fundamental changes--the formalization of closer economic ties and a broad-based convergence in values--suggest that political integration in North America may now be more likely. (1)

Here I follow this line of inquiry by asking: What role do attitudes toward the environment play in shaping North American orientations toward political integration? To date, the most vigorous variant of this argument comes from Caldwell, who argues that environmental issues, because of their nature, cannot be dealt with effectively within the confines of national boundaries: acid rain and air pollution, for instance, have consequences that extend beyond national borders. Consequently, "from an ecological perspective political boundaries and political programs are characteristically seen as artificial often unwisely obstructing or disrupting natural relationships" (1985, 207). Ecological deterioration is likely to affect all North Americans, regardless of their nationality, and dealing effectively with such issues may require a continental outlook, one that may inevitably push North Americans to unite and work together in an even broader global environmental context.

But intriguing as Caldwell's argument may be, there are also other, more substantive reasons for examining the prospective link between environmentalism and the possibility of North American political integration. For one thing, a number of recent public opinion polls suggest that public support for environmental issues is on the rise (OECD 1982; 1986; 1991); people in advanced industrial states unequivocally approve of both the environmental movement and its basic goal of environmental protection (Dunlap and Van Liere 1978; Dunlap 1992; Dunlap, Gallup G., and Gallup, A. 1993; Mertig and Dunlap 1995; Dalton 1988, 1994; Milbrath 1984, 1989; Hofrichter and Reif 1990; Skrentny 1993; Worcester 1993). (2) And, while environmentalism may be prevalent throughout most of the Western world, Hay and Haward contend that publics in North America seem particularly concerned: "There is a sense in which North American and Antipodean developments are ultimately more fundamental than those that have occurred in Europe" (1988, 433). Indeed, if they are accurate in characterizing North Americans as especially biocentric, then it is even more imperative that we pay closer attention to Caldwell's earlier argument, as well as to North American environmentalism more generally. (3)

The following analysis is divided into two parts, both of which rely heavily on broad-gauged national survey evidence from the 1990 World Values Surveys. (4) The first part begins by focusing exclusively on Caldwell's argument. More particularly, the central question here is: Do North Americans who are concerned about the environment also support the proposition of "doing away with political borders?" Indeed, the findings in this case are remarkable: in all three North American countries, more than half of Americans, Canadians, and Mexicans support the idea of "doing away with political borders" if it means that "we would be able to deal more effectively with environmental issues like acid rain and pollution" (World Values Surveys 1990). Surely, then, such findings also call for a more sustained examination of North American environmental orientations. Consequently, in the second part of this essay, I explore North American environmentalism in more detail, focusing on its breadth, its determinants, and its depth. …

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