Activating values for encouraging pro-environmental behavior: the role of religious fundamentalism and willingness to sacrifice

Abstract

A number of theories and hypotheses attempt to understand what influences pro-environmental behaviors. In social psychology, the values–beliefs–norms (VBN) theory is one of the most common approaches used to explain pro-environmental behaviors. But different sets of concepts have often been used in work based on large public opinion surveys. Here, we add to the VBN theory several variables—Christian religious fundamentalism, willingness to sacrifice, trust in scientists, biotechnology beliefs—that have been used in the public opinion literature in a step toward a more integrative theory. A sample of 518 U.S. adults completed an online questionnaire to provide data. Results confirm that, in the USA, biospheric altruism values had substantial indirect effects on pro-environmental behavior via willingness to sacrifice for biodiversity loss. But climate change beliefs and willingness to sacrifice for climate change did not exert direct or indirect effects on pro-environmental behavior. Interestingly, religious fundamentalism increased pro-environmental behavior net of other factors including political ideology, again acting primarily through biospheric altruism values. We hope that our findings encourage steps toward more integrated theory and the testing of more comprehensive models.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Christina Azodi for the use of the biotechnology belief items she developed.

Funding

Funding is provided by the National Science Foundation, NASA, Environmental Science and Policy Program at Michigan State University, Sustainable Michigan Endowment Project, and Michigan AgBioResearch.

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Correspondence to Thomas Dietz.

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Appendices

Appendix 1VIF and SEM results

Table 6 Variance inflation factor (VIF) for variables used in SEM
Table 7 Unstandardized (standardized) coefficients of all variables predicting pro-environmental behavior in the final structural equation model

Appendix 2 Short description of biotechnologies

The five biotechnology applications were developed by Christina Azodi (Azodi and Dietz 2018): “Biopharmaceuticals,” “Herbicide-resistant crops,” “Biofortified crops,” “Horn free dairy cattle,” and “Gene drives.” The short descriptions of these applications are as follows:

  1. 1.

    “Biopharmaceuticals” are medical drugs produced by genetically modified bacteria to produce synthetic insulin more affordable.

  2. 2.

    “Herbicide-resistant crops” are genetically modified to be resistant to certain kinds of herbicides that allow farmer to increase productivity with lower costs.

  3. 3.

    “Biofortified crops” are genetically modified to increase their nutritional values such as a vitamin-A–enriched rice for undernourished children.

  4. 4.

    “Horn free dairy cattle” are genetically modified to suppress their natural horn growth, which eliminates the need for painful and expensive horn removal procedures in calves.

  5. 5.

    “Gene drive” is a way to introduce a gene or trait into a population and ensure it spreads to the whole population. For example, a genetically modified mosquito with a sterilization gene could be used to kill populations of mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus.

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Chung, M.G., Kang, H., Dietz, T. et al. Activating values for encouraging pro-environmental behavior: the role of religious fundamentalism and willingness to sacrifice. J Environ Stud Sci 9, 371–385 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13412-019-00562-z

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Keywords

  • Pro-environmental behaviors
  • Values–beliefs–norms theory
  • Climate change
  • Biotechnology
  • Biodiversity loss