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4.1.1 Differentiating Values, Attitudes, and Beliefs

Multiple definitions of values exist in the broader literature. Dietz et al. (2005) provide a definition of values which involves our sense of what something is worth, our opinions about that worth, and the moral principles and standards relevant to our social group. Values are concepts or beliefs about desirable end states or behaviors that go beyond specific situations to influence how we behave and evaluate behavior. Values are different from attitudes and beliefs. Attitudes are positive or negative evaluations of something very specific. The most commonly used measure of pro-environmental attitudes has been the NEP scale (BissingOlson et al. 2013). Beliefs are our understandings about the state of the world or the facts as we see them. For example, I may think that it is very important to protect forests (value), but strongly oppose purchasing forest credits as a way to offset my own organization's CO2 emissions (attitude), due to my skepticism regarding whether or not climate change is really occurring (belief).

A range of environmental values exist. A central topic in environmental ethics is whether the environment has intrinsic value or simply has value because it serves as a means to human ends (e.g., financial benefits, resource availability, or instrumental utility). Is the environment a stakeholder (see Sect. 3.4)? In economics, market prices and contingent valuation are ways to place value on the environment (i.e., ask people what they would pay to leave a forest ecosystem intact). Researchers have suggested at least three value bases for environmental concern: self-interest (i.e., it influences me and those I care about), humanistic or social altruism (i.e., it influences my community; it influences humanity), and biospheric altruism or biocentrism (i.e., it influences other species or ecosystems). Only biospheric altruism acknowledges the intrinsic value of the environment and has been shown to contribute significantly to the formation of environmental beliefs (Stern et al. 1995). Situational cues and the context can influence the relative importance of each form of altruism at any given time, although basically an individual's value set is relatively stable across time barring a significant change in circumstances (Dietz et al. 2005).

4.1.2 Research into Environmental Values

For almost 50 years, researchers representing a range of disciplines including ethics, social psychology, economics, political science, and sociology have discussed factors they believe influence environmental values (e.g., religious values, altruistic values, traditionalism, or openness to change) (Dietz et al. 2005). Gender (women generally are more pro-environmental), education and/or income (more resources allow individuals to express their pro-environmental values), and religious orientation have been linked with pro-environmental values. Other research links environmental values to early childhood experiences. For example, Chawla (1999) investigated how early experiences influence an individual's predisposition to learn about the environment, feel concern for it, and act to conserve it. She found the most frequently mentioned influences were childhood experiences in nature, experiences of pro-environmental destruction, pro-environmental values held by close family members, membership in pro-environmental organizations, role models (friends or teachers), and education. Allen et al.'s (2013) research reinforced the role of family on young people's pro-environmental attitudes. They found a parent's environmental self-efficacy was a strong predictor of the child's environmental self-efficacy as measured by the statement “My actions can influence the quality of the environment.” A parent's environmental prioritization also significantly predicted the child's environmental prioritization. Prioritization was measured by the statement, “Global warming should be a high priority for our next president.” A strong relationship emerged between self-efficacy and prioritization for both the parents and the children. “Selfefficacy refers to beliefs in one's capabilities to mobilize the motivation, cognitive resources, and courses of action needed to meet given situational demands” (Wood and Bandura 1989, p. 408).

Unfortunately research investigating environmental values is generally either based on self-reported behaviors (e.g., do you commonly recycle?), behavioral intentions (e.g., would you recycle if bins were provided?), or attitudinal measures (e.g., I believe climate change is a major threat). Dietz et al. (2005) provide a nice review of past research and emerging trends when investigating environmental values. Until recently, few studies investigated the relationship between values and actual behavior. Behavioral intentions (verbal commitment and environmental behavioral intention) are the most studied proximal antecedents of pro-environmental behavior. When you read studies testing various models and theories, notice that often researchers only measure the process through behavioral intention. It can be extremely difficult to gather actual behavioral data.

 
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