CHANGING ATTITUDES AND PROVIDING INFORMATION
This chapter begins with brief passages from two of the best-known and most widely read books ever written about environmental problems. The books were -written to educate people about the problems and, thereby, change their behavior toward the environment. Such efforts to educate usually have two main thrusts, which the passages below illustrate: changing people's attitudes and providing them with information.
The first passage comes from Rachel Carson's classic book on the dangers of pesticide use, Silent
[Insecticide and herbicide] sprays, dusts, and aerosols are now applied almost universally to farms, gardens, forests, and homes—nonselective chemicals that have the power to kill every insect, the "good" and the "bad," to still the song of birds and the leaping offish in streams, to coat the leaves with a deadly film, and to linger on in the soil—all this though the intended target may be only a few weeds or insects. Can anyone believe it is possible to lay down such a barrage of poisons on the surface of the earth without making it unfit for all life? They should not be called "insecticides," but "biocides."
.. Future historians may well be amazed by our distorted sense of proportion. How could intelligent beings seek to control a few unwanted species by a method that contaminated the entire environment and brought the threat of disease and death even to their own kind? (PP. 7-8)
[Carson goes on to argue for the use of biological pest control, a system that controls pests with predators, diseases, and other natural enemies.]
The second passage is from the popular book 50 Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth (Earth Works Group, 1989), published in connection with the U.S. observance of Earth Day 1990. The passage is part of a discussion of water-saving shower heads from number 24 of the 50 things.
Showers usually account for a whopping 32% of home water use.
••• A standard shower head uses about 5-7 gallons of water per minute (gpm)—so even a 5-minute shower can use 35 gallons!
•.• "Low-flow" shower heads reduce water use by 50% or more. They typically cut the flow rate to just 3 gpm—or less. So installing one is the single most effective water conservation step you can take inside your home.
. . . [In addition, with] a low flow shower head, energy use (and costs) for heating hot water for showers may dtop as much as 50%. (pp. 50-51)
[The section goes on to explain how to tell if the shower head in your bathroom is a standard or a low-flow model, how low flow models work, and where they can be purchased.]
The passage above from 50 Simple Things . . and the entire book—aims to change the way people treat the environment by providing information. The authors don't try to change attitudes; they assume that the reader already wants to save the earth. The authors believe, however, that the reader needs to know exactly what to do and how to do it in order to take effective action.
The books Silent Spring and 50 Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth were written on the assumption that educating people—changing their attitudes and beliefs and providing them with information—would change their actual behavior, The kinds of educational efforts we discuss in this chapter are much more focused than the kinds of moral and ethical-religious appeals we discussed in Chapter 3. This is because people's beliefs about particular environmental issues, such as the effects of pesticides on bird populations, and their related attitudes, such as about the widespread use of pesticides, are much more specific and less deeply rooted than their morals and basic values (such as a religious reverence for nature) or their general ideas about how the environment responds to human intervention.
The assumption about the efficacy of education that underlies Silent Spring and 50 Simple Things is not one confined to environmentalists who write books. It is shared by many public officials, doctors, educators, and ordinary citizens who are concerned about societal problems. deed, it is almost common sense that education is essential for solving a wide range of social problems, and many also believe that a good educational effort will be sufficient to do the job., —, Consider, for example, this brief quotation from the Saline, Michigan, hospital newsletter: "Today, marijuana use is not uncommon in junior high schools, and is creeping into elementary schools. How can it be stopped? As with any behavior, the most effective way. . .is through education." Following the same logic, people propose sex education as the way to prevent the spread of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, education on smoking and diet as ways to prevent heart disease, and environmental education as the way to get people to be more respectful of wilderness areas and other fragile environmental systems (see Figure 4-1).
..Behavioral and social science research, however, indicates that this conventional wisdom—that education is enough to solve social problems—is oversimplified and misleading. The research shows that education can help but that education is rarely sufficient. \For example, decades of careful study of health promotion campaigns show that it is possible to get people to stop smoking tobacco or to eat healthier foods, but not with education alone. In the 1960s and 1970s, a large number of programs were conducted in schools to keep children from developing the smoking habit. These programs, which operated mainly by providing information on why smoking is bad for health, changed some of the students' beliefs and attitudes, but rarely reduced the onset of smoking behavior (Thompson, 1978). Other educational programs for health promotion—to improve eating habits, cut alcohol consumption and the like—have been plagued by problems of limited success and frequent relapses into old behavior patterns.
FIGURE 4-1 Some Written Educational Materials Intended to Promote Healthy Behavior
Clearly, there have been major strides in health promotion in the United States over the past 30 years. Since the 1950s, when the link between cigarette smoking and cancer first came to light, the proportion of American adults who smoke has decreased, and after decades of publicity about the health effects of fiber and cholesterol in the diet, sales figures have shown increased consumption of whole grains and fresh produce and decreased consumption of red meat. But these successes are based on more than just education. We identify the other key elements of success later in the chapter.
Chapter Overview. We devote this chapter to a careful examination oforefftstpenczspgntra prom environmental behavior via education. We focus on interventions that aim to change people's behavior in the relatively short run. (We do not address general environmental education programs, such as those in some schools, targeted specifically at children, that attempt to produce changes in the long run by changing children's basic environmental understanding so they will believe differently as adults. The long-term effects of such education are very difficult to measure, but we believe that these effects can be significant, and we return to this theme at the end of the chapter.)
We find that, as with health promotion, education is helpful but not sufficient for promoting the desired behaviors. We look first at educational efforts that try to change fairly specific environmental attitudes and beliefs and then at efforts that offer information about how to action pro-environmental attitudes. We see that education can change attitudes and beliefs, but that many barriers, both within individuals and in their social and economic environments, can keep pro-environmental attitudes from being expressed in action. Some internal barriers can be overcome with informational programs, but only if the programs are carefully designed to take advantage of psychological principles of communication. The chapter presents those principles and some illustrative examples of successful and unsuccessful information programs. But even the best educational programs cannot overcome external barriers to action, such as financial expense or serious inconvenience. The chapter details what environmental education can and cannot accomplish, and tells what must be done to take the educational strategy as far as it can go. In later chapters, we show how even greater success can be achieved by combining education with other approaches.
EDUCATION TO CHANGE ENVIRONMENTAL ATTITUDES AND BELIEFS
Education can change attitudes and specific environmental beliefs, but it cannot quickly or easily change ethics or values. Furthermore, education is not likely to work if it promotes attitudes that clash with people's basic ethics or values. Educators like Carson know this. If an educator tells people that in order to have a clean environment they must sacrifice financial security, fresh food, or time with their families, people who value those things highly will reject the educator's message. But if the message is that environmental quality does not require people to reorder their basic values, it will go down easier. Carson's message can work partly because she explains how giving up pesticides does not mean giving up fresh food. It is not necessary to choose between environmental values and fresh produce, because one can have both by rejecting pesticides in favor of biological controls. (Of course, major shifts in Western values may also be needed to permanently solve environmental problems, as we discussed in Chapter 3.)
Changing environmental attitudes can make a difference. It is no coincidence that the increased awareness and concern about environmental problems in U.S. public opinion beginning in the 1960s was followed by a burst of new legislation in the 1970s. And many scholars and writers believe that this shift in opinion was strongly influenced by Carson's Silent Spring. Also, when the word first came out in the mid-1970s that the chlorofluorocarbon propellants used in aerosol cans might harm the earth's ozone layer, Americans quickly reduced their purchases of the cans and the government instituted a ban (Morrisette, et al., 1990). This could not have happened without widespread public concern. People who strongly favor environmental protection are more likely to join environmental movement organizations (Mitchell, 1979) and vote for environmental protection in public referenda (Gill et al., 1986), so attitudes can lead to action. But environmental attitudes are not always correlated with behavior, and attitude change does not always lead to behavioral change. These facts greatly limit what the attitude-change strategy alone can accomplish.
Controlled studies show that educational efforts to change environmental attitudes and beliefs generally have little effect on behavior. The most careful studies focus on consumer behaviors—recycling, energy conservation, and other things individuals can do on their own to directly change how environmental resources are used. (Researchers have not conducted experiments on changing people's political attitudes and beliefs—what Silent Spring tried to do—probably because doing this as an experiment poses serious ethical questions.) The following examples are typical. They focus on energy conservation in the home, an important way of reducing environmental problems such as air pollution and global warming and one on which there is considerable research.
In 1977, a year when natural gas shortages caused some businesses and schools to close down to preserve heating fuel, state agencies in Virginia conducted three-hour workshops in various communities to educate people about energy conservation in the home. The workshops, which consisted of lectures, slide shows, discussions, and demonstrations, were designed to convince people that they could save substantial amounts of energy in their homes and to show them how. Scott Geller and his colleagues at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University evaluated the effects of the workshop approach with surveys and follow-up visits to participants' homes to look for behavioral change (Geller, 1981). The workshops were effective in changing attitudes and beliefs, as measured by before-and-after surveys. After the workshop, participants expressed increased concern about the energy crisis, increased awareness that simple changes in the home can yield substantial energy savings, and stronger beliefs that they could do something about the energy crisis and that they had not yet done enough to insulate their homes. The surveys also revealed stronger expressed commitment to change "residential lifestyle for energy conservation." But these attitudes, beliefs, and commitments did not translate into behavioral change. Follow-up visits to participants' homes six weeks after the workshop revealed that only one of forty workshop participants had lowered a water heater thermostat, as the workshop had recommended, and that the only two with insulated water heaters (another workshop recommendation) had insulated them before the workshop. The only behavioral change was in installing low-flow shower heads. Eight of forty workshop participants had installed them, compared with two of forty nonparticipants in nearby homes. But this change was not produced by education alone. The workshop leaders also gave participants water-flow restrictors and explained how to use them. By doing this, they removed a barrier to energy conservation—the effort of obtaining the flow restrictor people may have come to want as a result of the workshop. Such barriers between attitudes and behavior impede educational efforts, as we see throughout this chapter. In sum, although the workshops changed people's attitudes, beliefs, and even their plans to act (at least for a while), education alone did not lead to any observable action.
A similar result was observed in a government pilot program conducted in 1977 in Denver, Colorado. The purpose of this program was to change people's attitudes about appliance purchases so that instead of trying to get the lowest price, they would want the model with the lowest "energy cost of ownership." This concept is that the true cost of a household appliance such as a refrigerator includes not only the purchase price but also the cost of the energy used to operate it. The U.S. Department of Energy believed that if consumers developed energy-wise attitudes about appliance purchases, they would begin to buy models that achieve great energy savings, even if they cost a bit more to buy. The program used paid radio, television, and newspaper advertisements, as well as signs in appliance stores, using the slogan, "Products That Save Energy Pay for Themselves." In addition, displays were placed in shopping malls and in bank lobbies to show how much could be saved, carrying the message, "Products That Save Energy Finance Themselves." The program, which ran for seven months, produced increased awareness and some attitude change. At the end of the project, people knew more about the cost and expected savings from specific conservation measures and were more likely to believe they could personally help solve the energy problem. They also expressed greater willingness to pay 10 to 15 percent more for energy-efficient appliances. But their actual behavior changed very little (Hutton, 1982).
FIGURE 4-2 Some Barriers to Making Major Energy-Conserving Home Improvements
Why did these efforts fail? One likely explanation is the ap between attitudes and behavior. There are many good reasons p actions that reflect their values and attitudes. Consider the example of someone who wants to cut his energy bills. He may not know how much he can save in his particular home by upgrading insulation or installing an energy-efficient furnace, may not have the necessary money or credit, may not want to change a heating system that is functioning adequately, may want to spend the money on something else, may not trust a local contractor to do the work, or may be unable to act because, as a renter, he does not have the right to alter the building (see Figure 4-2). The more of these barriers that exist, the less difference a strong attitude in favor of saving energy will make in terms of behavior. Box 4-1 reports the results of a statewide survey of Massachusetts households that demonstrates this point. It shows that attitudes predict simple, low-cost energy-conserving behaviors such as resetting thermostats, but the more difficult or expensive the behavior, the weaker the relationship to energy attitudes.
Barriers to action also prevent other kinds of environmentally responsible behavior. Raymond De Young (1989) interviewed thirty-two participants and fifty-nine nonparticipants in a long-established community recycling program in Ann Arbor, Michigan, to try to understand their behavior. He found that the groups had about equally strong pro-recycling attitudes. On a scale that represented strong anti-recycling attitudes as 1 and strong pro-recycling attitudes as 5, recyclers' responses averaged 4.13 on items such as "I like it when stores carry recycled products" and "recycling is good because it helps reduce imports." Non-recyclers' attitudes were not significantly different at 4.02. What differentiated the groups was their beliefs about barriers to recycling, particularly difficulty. The two groups were a full half-point apart on these items: "It's a big nuisance to keep everything separated for recycling," "A problem with recycling is finding a place to put the stuff," and "I'm never exactly sure what I'm supposed to do to recycle." Recyclers' opinions were about neutral at 3.14, but non-recyclers, who averaged 2.65, saw significant difficulties with recycling.
In a similar vein, Georg Prester and his colleagues (1987) examined the differences between participants and nonparticipants in a local political debate about extending a high-speed railroad line in a residential area of Mannheim, Germany. People who became politically active in the controversy had a slightly higher level of general environmental awareness and were more likely to believe that the project would decrease local environmental quality. However, two of the strongest determinants of political involvement were knowledge about how to participate and interest in politics. When it came to action, political skills—interest and know-how—were more important than environmental attitudes.
The studies of environmental attitudes and behavior indicate that although the right attitudes are conduI cive to environmeniariction, th-ey-arcaily predictive of action-under certain conditions. Attitudes are more likely to lead to behavior when strong barriers to action are removed. (A recent study of recycling attitudes and behavior suggests that attitudes have their strongest effects when external conditions—barriers or inducements—have moderate strength, and that both strong barriers and strong inducements limit the effects of attitudes [Guagnano, Stern, & Dietz, 1995].)
The conceptual framework of Table 4-2, which is based on an analysis of numerous studies of pro-environmental behavior, makes clearer what the barriers are. The table shows a long causal chain of factors influencing environmentally relevant behavior, which is at the bottom of the chain (level 1). Note that any variable at a higher level in the chain is able to influence any variable at a lower level. For example, owning one's own home rather than renting (level 6 in the table) may affect one's attitudes toward energy efficiency (level 4). This is because, to a homeowner, an energy-efficient furnace and well-insulated attic mean more than just lowered utility expenses. Having an efficient, modern furnace and good insulation may be an important part of a homeowner's attitudes about taking good care of her home. For this reason also, homeowners may become more knowledgeable than renters about how to install insulation (level 3), and more committed to making this kind of home improvement (level 2). Note that it is possible for factors lower on the chain in Table 4-2 to influence those can increase levels of attention and commitment, as we discuss in a later section. higher up. For example, behavior (level 1) can change attitudes and knowledge (levels 4 and 3) through a process of learning from experience or a psychological process of justifying one's past efforts by adopting attitudes consistent with them—the phenomenon of cognitive dissonance reduction.
The framework shown in Table 4-2 indicates that there are two main types of barriers that can keep. people from acting on pro-environmental attitudes.
First, the frameworll lips that any break thechain between attitudes (level 4) and behavior (level 1), such as absence of appropriate knowledge (level 3) or of attention or commitment (level 2), can keep *environmental attitudes from generating action (see examples in the table). Such barriers exist w.libin individuals, so they can be addressed with interventions aimed at individuals. Information programs, —2 which we discuss in the next section, are designed to remove knowledge barriers at level 3. Other programs
Second, the framework in Table 4-2 identifies bar- riers that lie outside the individual. These external barriers, which appear at levels 7 and 6—the individual's socioeconomic background, available tech nology, social and political institutions, economic forces, and inconvenience—precede attitudes in the causal chain and so can prevent pro-environmental attitudes from forming. For example, opinion polls show a weak but cioeconomic factors such as level of education (level consistent relationship between so-7), and concern with the environment (level 4) (Hines, Hungerford, and Tomera, 1987). External barriers can also inhibit the expression of pro-environmental attitudes. Attitudes in favor of recycling produce no action when recycling is too inconvenient, and attitudes favoring energy conservation lead nowhere when action is costly, difficult, or blocked by the rules of property ownership.
As we mentioned in Chapter 3, external barriers can also impede the expression of values (level 5). The pro-environmental values of Indian Hindus and Chinese Taoists were not strong enough to overcome the pressures of poverty, tyranny, and competition for scarce resources (factors at level 7). As we noted in Chapter 3 and see again in this chapter, such external factors are very difficult to change at the individual level. In Chapters 5, 6, and 7, we examine the effects on individual behavior of interventions that alter some of the external economic and social forces shaping people's treatment of the environment.
To summarize: When can one expect attempts to change attitudes and beliefs to induce pro-environmental behavior? The simple answer is: When the barriers to action are low. In the case of consumer behaviors, barriers are low for inexpensive actions that are ready at hand. These include participating in well-designed, convenient recycling programs, making simple and low-cost changes in household energy use, and the like. The barriers are higher when...the actions are inconvenient, complex, or when they have costs to the individual in terms of money, time, or opportunities foregone. Note further that some political actions are relatively easy to take. The most obvious one —voting— is the one where attitude-behavior relationships are easiest to demonstrate. In contrast, joining organizations takes more time and sometimes money, and becoming an environmental activist, which takes considerable effort, requires much more than just a pro-environmental attitude.
What can educational efforts aimed at attitude change accomplish when the external barriers to action are high? In the short run, they can do very little by themselves. But interventions need not be restricted to attitude change. As a few of the examples above have already shown, efforts to change attitudes and beliefs, combined with a lowering of the external barriers to action (for example, providing a flow-restricting shower head to install), have real potential. We discuss combination approaches to behavior change later in the book, especially in Chapter 7. In the short run, tile most promising role for education is to help overcome internal barriers to action, particularly the barriers of ignorance and misinformation. We turn now to this use of education.
Gardner & Stern. (1996). Environmental Problems and Human Behavior. Boston: Allyn and Bacon