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Environment, economics, and consumption : conflicting cultural models Simpson, Beth Michaela

Abstract

Rising evidence of environmental degradation led to rising levels of public as well as scientific concern about environmental issues in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Part of the Prospect for Sustainability in the Lower Fraser Basin project, this sociological study uses Cultural Modelling theory to explain why, when so many people express concern for the environment, so few people are actively involved in forms of environmental activism, especially those that call for real commitment. Two main questions were investigated: First, are dominant economic and consumption cultural models more salient to most respondents than cultural models of the environment? Second, is it the case that individuals who are seriously committed to and actively participate in behaviours targeted at the protection of the environment, are less likely to hold the dominant cultural models of the economy and of consumption? Data from three samples were compared. One sample consisted of responses from 107 purposefully sampled community leaders from Abbotsford, BC, a community known to have environmental problems. The other two samples come from a randomly sampled survey. One sample was based on the population of British Columbia (N=1533), the other is an oversample of Abbotsford (N= 100) from the same study. Respondents from all data sets were asked a series of questions regarding which sorts of behaviours supporting environmental issues they participated in, and which forms environmentally friendly consumption they engage in. Other questions measured opinion regarding the environment and economics. Statistical analyses reveal widespread concern for the environment but very little in the way of committed behaviour regarding the protection of the environment. The findings also show a very widespread acceptance of economic cultural models supporting economic growth and strong economies. The research concludes that those individuals who embrace an ecological stance, while rejecting dominant cultural models of economic growth and consumption, are more likely to behave in ways that minimize their impact on the environment. The study also calls for a different environmental discourse that confronts and insistently attacks dominant cultural models and the taken-for-granted assumptions we live with.

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