In 2012 I had a couple of internet conversations with Cardiff psychologist and green activist Adam Corner. The first one got a lot of publicity, eg at Bishop Hill and Judith Curry’s Climate Etc., largely because it was the first time such a dialogue had been attempted. The second one got less coverage. Barry Woods kindly posted it on his site:
which annoyed Adam, since he and Barry have issues. It was my turn to ask the questions, and I specifically asked Adam about his use in a piece of research he’d done (Corner, Whitmarsh & Xenias, 2012) of the New Ecological Paradigm, a battery of 15 questions used to discover how “green” respondents are. It seemed to serve no purpose in the paper, so I wondered why it was used.
We included it in our research in order to have a well validated scale .. for measuring people’s beliefs about the environment. We wanted to know how they related to people’s beliefs about climate change… As you might expect, people’s score on the NEP scale was a significant predictor of their scores on the scepticism scale – the more ‘pro-environmental’ they were (as measured by the NEP), the less sceptical about climate change they were … I think it helps to set the scene for what is going into a sceptical judgment about climate change: in part, it is coming from disagreeing with the NEP scale. So, in part, scepticism about climate change is coming from disagreeing with items that measure ‘pro-environmental’ beliefs (and measured them long before climate change was known about by the public).
Fair enough. Here is a scale which measures “green” attitudes, independently of, and prior to, attitudes to climate change. It has its origins in a paper (Dunlap, Van Liere, Mertig, Jones 2000)
which revised the original New Environmental Paradigm developed by Dunlap and Van Liere in 1978.
Here’s how Dunlap et al described the development of their scale in 2000:
Sensing that environmentalists were calling for more far-reaching changes than the development of environmental protection policies and stimulated by Pirages and Ehrlich’s (1974) explication of the anti-environmental thrust of our society’s dominant social paradigm (DSP), in the mid-1970s Dunlap and Van Liere argued that implicit within environmentalism was a challenge to our fundamental views about nature and humans’ relationship to it. Their conceptualization of what they called the New Environmental Paradigm (NEP) focused on beliefs about humanity’s ability to upset the balance of nature, the existence of limits to growth for human societies, and humanity’s right to rule over the rest of nature. In a 1976 Washington State study Dunlap and Van Liere found that a set of 12 Likert items measuring these three facets of the new social paradigm or worldview exhibited a good deal of internal consistency (coefficient alpha of .81), and strongly discriminated between known environmentalists and the general public. [my emphasis]
Here are the 15 questions on the revised NEP scale, together with the sum of respondents ticking “strongly agree” or mildly agree”. For simplicity, I’ve left out those who ticked “unsure”, “mildly disgree” or “strongly disagree”. Note that odd numbered statements correspond to “environmental” statements, even numbered statements to “anti-environmental” statements. (sample: approximately 666 citizens of Washington State).
1 We are approaching the limit of the number of people the earth can support (53%)
2. Humans have the right to modify the natural environment to suit their needs (33%)
3. When humans interfere with nature it often produces disastrous consequences (82%)
4. Human ingenuity will insure that we do NOT make the earth unlivable (31%)
5. Humans are severely abusing the environment (87%)
6. The earth has plenty of natural resources if we just learn how to develop them (59%)
7. Plants and animals have as much right as humans to exist (77%)
8. The balance of nature is strong enough to cope with the impacts of modern industrial nations (9%)
9. Despite our special abilities humans are still subject to the laws of nature (91%)
10. The so-called “ecological crisis” facing humankind has been greatly exaggerated (22%)
11. The earth is like a space ship with very little room and resources (74%)
12. Humans were meant to rule over the rest of nature (34%)
13. The balance of nature is very delicate and easily upset (79%)
14. Humans will eventually learn enough about how nature works to be able to control it (23%)
15. If things continue on their present course, we will soon experience a major ecological catastrophe (65%)
(“Unsures” varied between 3% for statement 9 and 24% for statement 14.)
This is a serious survey, and the results are quite extraordinary. The “dominant” social paradigm is rejected, and the “environmental” paradigm is endorsed, in every single case, often by a huge margin. It could be argued that Washington State is a particularly “progressive” part of the USA, but it wouldn’t be surprising, given everything we know about the prevalence of “green” ideas, to see similar majorities in samples of almost any population in the Western world. It’s one of the puzzling facts about our world that the Green parties, which struggle to get their vote in elections above 5%, regularly see their core beliefs endorsed by 70-80% of the population.
I was going to say “core ideas”, but what strikes one about the above statements is how fuzzy they are. They’re presented as statements of fact; but they’re clearly not. They’re beliefs, attitudes, feelings. How would you go about falsifying a statement like “Humans are still subject to the laws of nature” or “The balance of nature is very delicate and easily upset”? What does it mean to say that “Plants and animals have as much right as humans to exist“? What plants? What animals? and why bother respondents to a survey with such philosophical abstractions? Or take: “The earth is like a space ship with very little room and resources”. This metaphorical proposition is is framed as a supposed statement of fact. But agreeing with it is surely more like expressing a feeling than asserting a fact:
HAMLET: Do you see yonder earth that’s almost in shape of a space ship?
POLONIUS: By th’ mass, and ’tis like a space ship indeed.
HAMLET: Methinks it hath very little room.
POLONIUS: It seemest to have very little room.
HAMLET: Or resources.
POLONIUS: Very like, little resources.
The idea of a paradigm being replaced by another is taken from Thomas Kuhn, and his idea of science advancing by “paradigm shifts” as described in “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” (1962).
In the New Environmental Paradigm, beliefs, feelings, predictions, and value judgements are inextricably mixed, and the citizens of Washington State, and the teenage students in the Psychology department of Cardiff University, are presented with a battery of questions designed to separate the environmentalists from the supporters of the dominant social paradigm. But why? How? What for?
Dunlap and his coauthors provide the answer in their paper. They “sense”: “that environmentalists were calling for more far-reaching changes than the development of environmental protection policies” and they were “stimulated by Pirages and Ehrlich’s (1974) explication of the anti-environmental thrust of our society’s dominant social paradigm”.
When Dunlap et al start talking about what they “sense” and what “stimulates” them, they have clearly left far behind the world of objective scientific research. Pirage and Ehrlich (1974) is a book – “Ark II” – not a peer-reviewed scientific paper. It’s a political manifesto, a polemical demand for change in society. Pirage and Ehrlich state clearly that their purpose is to replace the Dominant Social Paradigm by the New Environmental Paradigm. And just two years later Dunlap and Van Leire do just that, with a simple battery of questions which demonstrate that the vast majority of the population believes wholeheartedly in the Green Creed. The Greens have apparently won the argument before the debate has even begun. And in a peer-reviewed scientific paper, no less.
The peer-reviewed scientific buck stops here. Every paper in the social sciences that cites Dunlap et al is relying on Pirage and Ehrlich, and on Dunlap’s scientific three-card trick of turning political propaganda into objective science. And that means much of the literature covering attitudes to global warming.
Imagine if Marx and Engels had signed off the Communist Manifesto with:
“The workers have nothing to lose but their chains: Do you Strongly Agree, Mildly Agree, Unsure, Mildly Disagree, Strongly Disagree?”
What a lot of fuss and bother they might have saved themselves.
[Alex Cull has kindly provided me with a digitalised version of “Ark II”. It’s most interesting. Pirage and Ehrlich have big problems with democracy. And no wonder].
(to be continued)