Is Environmentalism Only for Rich People?

“The question arises: Is environmentalism a boutique issue, a cause only the well-off can afford to worry about?”

The New York Times raises this question in an opinion piece by Neil Gross on Dec 14, 2018.

Mr Gross is a sociologist.  His main point in the article above is that “Without addressing inequality, the problem of global warming is never going to be resolved.  

After the Yellow Vest Riots many have come to the conclusion that only the wealth are point to be able to afford environmentalism.

After discussing the fact that many have come to the conclusion that it is probably true that only the rich will be able to afford the luxury of environmentalism, he argues that this isn’t actually true at all.  By the end of the article comes up to the conclusion that  we have to solve the problems of global warming and mass extinction but that we are going to have to address inequality first.  His main point is that

 “A different interpretation of the Yellow Vest protest may be warranted. Without a concerted effort to address inequality — which some in the environmental movement consider someone else’s department — the bold policy changes needed to slow global warming risk will never get off the ground.”

Below are some of the take-aways of this article.  The full text of the article can be reached with the link at the bottom of this page.

“As with working-class support for the faltering coal industry in the United States, the question arises:  “Is environmentalism a boutique issue, a cause only the well-off can afford to worry about?  Some social science suggests the answer is yes.“

“In some ways the situation in France fits this theory. France is wealthy and well educated. And environmentalism is big there. A 2017 study, for instance, found that 79 percent of the French population believes climate change to be a very serious problem. It is plausible to think that some of the anger the Yellow Vests are unleashing on Paris revolves around the cultural gap separating those French citizens privileged enough to be able to devote time, attention and money to matters like the environment from those not as fortunate.”  This position is held by the sociologist Mr Inglehart.

“Thought-provoking as Mr. Inglehart’s thesis is, however, it’s not hard to identify weaknesses. Here’s an obvious one: The United States, like France, is a prosperous country with a well-educated population. Yet according to a survey conducted this year by the Pew Research Center, only 44 percent of Americans say they care a great deal about climate change.”

“More recent research bolsters this skeptical view. Work by the sociologists Riley Dunlap and Richard York, based on a wider range of data, turns Mr. Inglehart’s finding on its head: They have discovered that the publics of poorer countries facing imminent resource loss from environmental destruction often hold the strongest pro-environment attitudes. For example, the island nation of Fiji — which stands to be decimated by global warming, rising sea levels and storms — ratified the Paris climate agreement on a unanimous parliamentary vote before any other nation did.”

“Another study, by the political scientist Matto Mildenberger and the geographer Anthony Leiserowitz, has found “no evidence” that people became less attuned to climate change when their economic prospects dwindled after the 2008 financial crisis.”

“Mr. Dunlap and Mr. York emphasize the contingency and variability of public support for environmental causes and practices. How much backing there will be — and in what quarters — depends on the specific environmental, economic and political conditions countries face. Environmental protection efforts can advance if the environmental movement acts strategically.”

“So smart rollouts and messaging matter. Mr. Macron’s environmental policies, for example, were announced from on high, without meaningful input from all the communities that would be affected.”

“Environmentalists insist that there is no reason in principle why a more effective communications strategy could not be found to pull together urban dwellers and the rural working- and lower-middle-class in a broad environmental coalition.”

Such a perspective is comforting. But it arguably understates the magnitude of the problem the environmental movement now confronts. Yes, contrary to the theory of postmaterialism, the well-off aren’t the only ones who care about climate change and the environment. Yet in many of today’s capitalist democracies, class and status resentments, fostered by rampant inequality and whipped up by opportunistic politicians, have developed to such an extent that issues like the environment that affect everyone are increasingly seen through the lens of group conflict and partisan struggle.”

“Differences between urban and rural, new economy and old, college educated versus working class and cosmopolitan versus local loom larger than ever. Although the research of the sociologist Dana R. Fisher shows that in the United States, climate change activists have been working to diversify their ranks, the trust needed for truly large-scale environmental coalition building is wearing thin.

Thus a different interpretation of the Yellow Vest protest may be warranted. Without a concerted effort to address inequality — which some in the environmental movement consider someone else’s department — the bold policy changes needed to slow global warming risk never getting off the ground.”

 

The image at the top of this page is an alpine meadow
in Teton National Park
in Wyoming.

 

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