Environmental Values in American Culture

Environmental Values in American Culture

By Willett M. Kempton, James S. Boster and Jennifer A. Hartley





How do Americans view environmental issues? From EarthFirst! members to sawmill workers, this study by a team of cognitive anthropologists offers both good and bad news for those addressing environmental issues in the public arena. On the one hand it reveals surprising similarities in the way different groups of Americans view long-term global environmental change, and on the other it shows that Americans have serious misunderstandings about these issues, which skews public support for policies. Using research techniques developed in the study of other cultures, Environmental Values in American Culture explores the reasons for the recent increase in environmental sentiments among Americans, and shows that current views attributing public environmentalism to a single cause are greatly oversimplified. It investigates the components of public environmentalism: beliefs (what people think the world is like), values (what is moral or desirable), and cultural models (the organization of beliefs or values into explanations or justifications). The authors document how scientific information on such issues as global warming, ozone depletion, and species extinctions is interpreted and transformed by the public, and how underlying beliefs and values influence preferences for or against environmental policies. The interviews with and surveys of groups such as EarthFirst!, Sierra Club members, the general public, congressional staff, coal miners, and sawmill workers yield rich insights about how people conceptualize - and misconceptualize - major environmental issues. They also reveal public beliefs and values that differ sharply from those of environmental scientists and economists, identify what is shared by Americans and what is idiosyncratic to extreme groups, and show that religious and spiritual values concerning the environment and concerns for one's descendants are as important as economic tradeoffs.


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262111911 334 pp. | 5.9 in x 8.9 in


$35.00 X ISBN: 9780262611237 334 pp. | 5.9 in x 8.9 in


  • Kempton, Boster and Hartley's research documents in rich detail the fundamental beliefs and values that underpin Americans' concern about environmental quality. Their in-depth, ethnographic interviews yield a vivid portrait of the ecological worldview that has taken root throughout our society in recent decades. This book should be read by all those who think environmentalism is a passing fad, as well as by anyone interested in understanding how the typical American thinks about environmental problems.

    Riley E. Dunlap

    Professor of Sociology, Washington State University

  • Bypassing the polemic of environmentalists and their opponents, this study takes the unique appraoch of defining American environmental values by listening closely to Americans. It contains some surprises for both sides. Kempton and his colleagues find that Americans share a common set of cultural values and understandings of nature that explain both the broad and persistent support for environmentalism and some popular misconceptions about newly identified environmental problems like global warming. This study will help environmentalists, environmental scientists, and educator by clearing away their misconceptions about the American public.

    Paul C. Stern

    Study Director of the committee on the Human Dimensions of Global Change

  • This book will be of interest to those concerned with global environmental issues, ranging from scientists, to policy makers, to educators. The research is original, the scholarship is sound, and the writing is clear and readable.

    Mario Molina

    Professor, Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, MIT