Are Environmental Concerns an Outcome of Post-Materialist Values? An Exploration and Alternate Perspectives.

Author:Mukherji, Jyotsna


Environmentalism is a broad term that can refer to the study of microbes in their environments to much larger issues like the concerns of world populations toward issues relating to air and water quality and more salient now, to global warming. Concern for the environment has become a topic for discussion and action rather on a global basis. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Kyoto Protocol, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports have raised global awareness of anthropogenic climate change. Concurrently, many grassroots movements, environmental nongovernmental organizations, books, documentaries, and news stories keep the focus on the wide range of environmental issues facing citizens around the world. In a World Values Survey (WVS, 1995, 2000, 2005) question asking respondents to choose between environmental protection and economic development, found that the overall percentage choosing environmental protection increased from 44% in 1995 to 56% in 2005 (Givens and Jorgenson, 2011). Clearly, environmentalism is an important concern on a global scale.

In the environmentalism literature, one strong research stream is the discussion on the attitudes toward environment issues and how they differ between citizens of the Global North and those of Global South. In the developed nations of the North, environmentalism is seen as an 'effluent of affluence (Guha and Aliers, 1997), and environmentalism a 'post-materialist' political expression different from the material politics of labor and trade union platforms (Dwivedi, 2001). In the post material societies of the west, social movements manifested as a contrast to the previous industrial/material society where nature, its resources and the environment were sacrificed for production and efficiency. Post materialist values expressed a desire for community and self-realization and where nature was not seen as a resource that could be exploited for progress and efficiency, rather worthy of protection (Dwivedi, 2001). This has led many to characterize environmentalism as a 'full stomach' phenomenon and green politics as the ultimate luxury of a consumer society (Moore, 1989).

The predominant perspective in the Environmentalism literature is the association between environmental concern and post materialist values. One of the main researchers to suggest this association is Inglehart (1995). He posited that economic wealth explained environmental intentions either at the individual or at the national level. He argued that once a country obtained a high level of economic development, its citizens would then have the freedom to focus on concerns such as quality of life and the environment. Thus, Inglehart claims that it is more likely to find concerns for the environment among post-materialist individuals and among wealthy nations.

According to, post materialism is a value orientation that emphasizes self-expression and quality of life over economic and physical security. The term post materialism was first coined by American social scientist Ronald Inglehart in The Silent Revolution: Changing Values and Political Styles among Western Publics (1977). Post-materialism refers to changing social values developed in the post-World War II period, based on an economy of mass abundance rather than scarcity. These values give more emphasis to ideal interests such as protecting the environment and advancing the rights of minorities (McAllister, 1999).


The primacy of the association between wealthy nations, post-materialist values and environmentalism is being challenged. In the poorer part of the world, popularly referred to as the Global South there has been an increase in environmental movements since the end of the 20th century. Global South refers to what used to be called the "Third World" (i.e., countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America), "developing countries," "less developed countries," and "less developed regions." If the post materialist values hypothesis requires affluence to lead to environmental concern, it is rational to assume that in less developed parts of the world concern for the environment would not be a priority value and /or concern. However researchers like Dunlap and Mertig (1997) argue, the emergence of widespread concern for environmental quality in non-industrialized nations questions the assumptions of the theory of post materialist value change because those nations have yet to experience the economic development that foster post materialistic values that are antecedent to pro environmentalism.

Franzen (2003) suggests that the increase in wealth leads to a higher demand for environmental quality. The author also suggests that wealthy nations, as measured by gross domestic product (GDP) per capita, are more willing to make financial sacrifices to protect the environment. This argument is often advanced as one of the explanatory factors behind the environmental Kuznets curve, which describes the commonly observed inverted-U-shape relationship between environmental degradation and per capita income. However, the empirical robustness of this relationship remains debatable, further emphasizing the weaknesses in the post materialist values explanatory power. Since the Global Forum in Rio in 1992, rising environmental activism in Third World countries has become evident and environmental grass-roots movements in developing countries have been widely studied (Guha 2000). However, with the rise of (a) environmentalism in the Global South (b) environmentalism across classes, (c) global political environmentalism, and (d) transnational environmental movements, the existing explanations of environmental concern as related to affluence need further development to capture the evidence of environmental concern across the...

To continue reading