Trust and Public Support for Environmental Protection in Diverse National Contexts

Malcolm Fairbrother

Sociological Science, June 8, 2016
DOI 10.15195/v3.a17

Worldwide, most people share scientists’ concerns about environmental problems, but reject the solution that policy experts most strongly recommend: putting a price on pollution. Why? I show that this puzzling gap between the public’s positive concerns and normative preferences is due substantially to a lack of trust, particularly political trust. In multilevel models fitted to two international survey datasets, trust strongly predicts support for environmental protection within countries and, by some measures, among countries also. An influential competing theory holds that environmental attitudes correlate mostly with left versus right political ideology; the results here, however, show that this correlation is weaker and varies substantially from country to country—unlike that with trust. Theoretically, these results reflect that environmental degradation is a collective action problem and environmental protection a public good. Methodologically, they derive from the more flexible application of multilevel modeling techniques than in previous studies using such models.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Malcolm Fairbrother: School of Geographical Sciences, Cabot Institute, Centre for Multilevel Modelling, University of Bristol

Acknowledgements: The author thanks Diego Miralles, Laura De Vito, Jan Mewes, and Jonas Edlund for helpful comments on earlier versions of this article, and audiences at the Institute for Futures Studies (Stockholm), Umeå University, Örebro University, Gothenburg University, Stockholm University, and the Institute for Social and Economic Research (Essex) for many constructive suggestions and criticisms. The research on which the article is based was funded in part by the Riksbankens Jubileumsfonds (Swedish Foundation for Humanities and Social Sciences, project number NHS14-2035:1), and a Fellowship from the Institute for Advanced Studies at the University of Bristol.

  • Citation: Fairbrother, Malcolm. 2016. “Trust and Public Support for Environmental Protection in Diverse National Contexts.” Sociological Science 3: 359-382.
  • Received: March 3, 2016
  • Accepted: March 13, 2016
  • Editors: Jesper Sørensen, Sarah Soule
  • DOI: 10.15195/v3.a17

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