Assessing the Diversity of Contemporary Environmentalism: Time for a New Paradigm

Abstract

The New Environmental Paradigm scale (NEP) is the most widely used measure of environmental attitudes globally, consisting of 15 unidimensional question items. Given the increased diversification of the environment movement in the 40 years since the NEP was introduced, this study used quantitative and qualitative methodologies to explore environmentalism’s heterogeneity and suggest areas in which the NEP might be modified. We fielded short surveys containing the NEP question items, and conducted in-depth, open-ended repertory grid interviews to supplement the survey data and minimize the priming influence of the researchers. Participants, despite harboring strong pro-environmental attitudes, expressed heterogeneous responses to the NEP question items. During the interview process, participants suggested a wide range of solutions to environmental problems, differentiating them on the basis of cost, scale, exigence, and agency. Despite expressing skepticism of technology in the survey data, green technologies proved salient in the repertory grid interviews. Differential analysis by age suggested attitudinal differences, but statistical significance was stymied by the small sample size. The results indicate that while aspects of the NEP remain theoretically relevant and analytically powerful, other components merit re-examination. The mixed methodologies suggest that repertory grid interviews can add depth and provide direction for construct development in traditional survey data collection. Further research could operationalize these findings with the goal of establishing a valid and reliable measure that expresses the diversity of contemporary pro-environmental attitudes.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    For purposes of historical continuity, in this paper it will be referred to as the New Environmental Paradigm scale.

  2. 2.

    This is unsurprising given that higher levels of education have long been associated with pro-environmental attitudes (Samdahl and Robertson 1989).

  3. 3.

    Notably, these items were added during Dunlap’s 1990 revision of the NEP scale.

  4. 4.

    Percentages refer to how much of the construct pool was occupied by a particular construct, not the percentage of participants who mentioned the construct.

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Correspondence to Jennifer M. Bernstein.

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Bernstein, J.M., Szuster, B. & Philips, L. Assessing the Diversity of Contemporary Environmentalism: Time for a New Paradigm. Int J Environ Res 11, 641–652 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s41742-017-0056-9

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Keywords

  • New Environmental Paradigm scale
  • New Ecological Paradigm scale
  • Social movements
  • Content analysis
  • American environmentalism
  • Repertory grid
  • Personal construct theory
  • Environmental attitudes