Global Changes and Local Accidents: Consistency in Attributions for Environmental Effects1


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    This research was supported by a grant from the Economic and Social Research Council, UK. Ref no. WL104251006.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to J. Richard Eiser, Department of Psychology, University of Exeter, Exeter EX4 4QG, UK.


A questionnaire concerning environmental issues was administered to 462 tourists visiting beaches in southwestern England. One set of items concerned the greenhouse effect, and measured the extent to which global warming was seen as attributable to individual behavior or corporate industrial activity, controllable by changes in behavior and policy, and having an immediate impact on the local climate. Other items concerned a recent shipping accident that had resulted in oil pollution of beaches in the region. Attributing the greenhouse effect to individual or corporate behavior, and interpreting climatic events as signs of this effect, were associated with a belief that the consequences of global warming could be disastrous, but also controllable through international and/or individual action. These responses covaried significantly with those concerning the oil spillage. Thus, greater perceptions of the urgency of dealing with global warming were associated with more negative views of the impact of the oil spillage, and with a greater tendency to attribute the shipping accident as due to bad seamanship, rather than chance. Those who saw individual behavior as contributing to the greenhouse effect were more likely to attribute the accident to bad seamanship, whereas those who felt that ordinary people could do little to stop the effects of global warming regarded the accident as one which could have happened to any tanker. It is suggested that cross-situational consistencies in attributional style and normative beliefs may contribute to associations between attitudes on distinct environmental issues.