Towards an improved understanding of environmental concern: development of an environmental concern model, corroboration of previous assessments, and pilot testing original scales

Wessel, Bjorn Peter Burdon
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The vision for this project is to aid in approaching climate change by providing an improved understanding of environmental concern. There are two missions. First, to develop heuristic models of environmental concern, and to utilize their constructs to assess environmental behaviour and environmental concern in a population. The model is intended to provide a depiction to aid in better understanding environmental concern and may aid in framing and developing intervention strategies to mitigate harmful effects of climate change. Broadly, assessments of environmental concern have been operationalized in two ways, as a unidimensional construct, ranging from high concern to low concern, or as multidimensional constructs demonstrating underlying reasons for environmental concern. Examining two multidimensional assessments reveals limitations of both and gaps between their underlying constructs. A reading of value-orientated theories from environmental ethics literature identifies six constructs for use in a multidimensional assessment of environmental concern. Utilizing equivalent constructs to the previous multidimensional assessments and expanding “nature” and natural entities into three separate categories results in six constructs intended to fill the gaps of the previous multidimensional assessments and may addresses some of their limitations. This reading also provides a theoretical foundation for designing items to relate to the six constructs. A theory map is presented which demonstrates constructs relating to an expanded narrative for use in multidimensional assessments. Climate change is a complex and often poorly understood phenomenon. Furthermore, it is clear that human behaviours are the underlying causes of climate change. Cross-disciplinary research and integration of several disciplines and fields of inquiry are necessary for developing sound approaches to climate change. Experimental philosophy and empirical ethics are discussed as guiding methodologies for this project. Meta-ethical fallacies and two considerations from the philosophy of science aid in contextualizing this research and provide epistemological limits for deriving ethical conclusions from facts about the world. A survey consisting of 11 sociodemographic items, the revised NEP scale’s 15 items, an existing 17 item environmental behaviour scale, and six 10 item original scales relating to six constructs based on value-orientated theories from environmental ethics and presented in the heuristic models, was drafted. An electronic version was designed and emailed to firstyear Life Science and Economics students. The environmental behaviour scale and the revised NEP scale are significant and correlate moderately positively, corroborating the hypothesis, that there is a relationship between environmental behaviour and environmental concern. While three of the six original scales (egocentrism, sociocentrism, and sentiocentrism) were unreliable, did not have many significant relationships with other variables, and require further development, the other three (nihilism, biocentrism, and ecocentrism) succeeded in corroborating the hypothesis, that there are underlying dimensions of environmental concern, and that they are significantly related to environmental behaviour. The project’s implications and recommendations discusses different intervention strategies in response to climate change as well as environmental communications and education, and how the heuristic models may aid in these topic’s endeavours. The project concludes by identifying a lack of environmental concern in two South African President’s State Of the Nation Addresses and stresses the need to improve environmental concern and increase the frequencies of people engaging in environmental behaviours. Key words: nature; natural entities; environment; environmental concern; environmental behaviour; value; environmental communication; environmental education; nihilism; anthropocentrism; egocentrism; sociocentrism; sentiocentrism; biocentrism; ecocentrism; experimental philosophy; empirical ethics; quantitative research.
Research report submitted in accordance for partial requirements for the degree of Masters in Interdisciplinary Global Change Studies in the Faculty of Science at the University of the Witwatersrand, 2018
Wessel, Björn Peter Burdon, (2018) Towards an improved understanding of environmental concern: corroboration of past assessments in a South African context and testing of a new instruments, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg,