The Value Basis of Environmental Concern


  • Paul C. Stern,

    Corresponding author
    1. National Research Council
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      PAUL C. STERN is study director of the Committee on the Human Dimensions of Global Change and the Committee on Risk Characterization at the National Research Council. His research interests include the formation of social attitudes on environmental policy and the determinants of resource-using and conserving behavior. His books include Energy Use: The Human Dimension (with Elliot Aronson; New York: Freeman, 1984) and Global Environmental Change: Understanding the Human Dimensions (with Oran R. Young and Daniel Druckman; Washington: National Academy Press, 1992), and he currently serves as coeditor of the Journal of Socio-Economics. He received his Ph.D. in psychology from Clark University in 1975.

  • Thomas Dietz

    1. George Mason University
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      THOMAS DIETZ is a professor of sociology at George Mason University. His research interests include the formation of environmental policy and the structure of environmental discourse, social-evolutionary theory, and social research methodology. He is a member of the National Research Council's Committee on the Human Dimensions of Global Change and is past-president of the Society for Human Ecology, an international interdisciplinary professional group. He is coauthor (with Robert W. Rycroft) of The Risk Professionals (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1987) and coeditor of the Handbook of Environmental Planning (New York: Wiley, 1977) and Human Ecology: Crossing Boundaries (Ft. Collins, CO: Society for Human Ecology). He received his Ph.D. in ecology from the University of California, Davis, in 1979.

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This article describes and presents initial empirical tests of a theory that links values, beliefs, attitudes, and behavior within a preference construction framework that emphasizes the activation of personal environmental norms. Environmental concern is related to egoistic, social-altruistic, and biospheric value orientations and also to beliefs about the consequences of environmental changes for valued objects. Two studies generally support the hypothesized relationships and demonstrate links to the broader theory of values. However, the biospheric value orientation postulated in the theoretical literature on environmentalism does not differentiate from social-altruism in a general population sample. Results are discussed in terms of value change, the role of social structural factors (including gender) in environmentalism, theories of risk perception, and the mobilization strategies of social movements, including environmental justice movements.