Environmental attitudes and behaviour in canada common ground or a rural urban divide
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Environmental attitudes and behaviour in Canada: Common Ground or a Rural-Urban Divide?. Emily Huddart, Solange Nadeau, Bonita McFarlane and Tom Beckley. Background and purpose. Long history of research on environmental attitudes. Much less research on environmental behaviour

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Environmental attitudes and behaviour in Canada: Common Ground or a Rural-Urban Divide?

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Environmental attitudes and behaviour in canada common ground or a rural urban divide

Environmental attitudes and behaviour in Canada:Common Ground or a Rural-Urban Divide?

Emily Huddart, Solange Nadeau, Bonita McFarlane and Tom Beckley

Background and purpose

Background and purpose

  • Long history of research on environmental attitudes. Much less research on environmental behaviour

  • Historical disconnect between environmental attitudes (positive) and environmental behaviour.

    • Little evidence that people were acting on their espoused concern for the environment.

    • Question was seldom asked.

Background and purpose1

Background and purpose

  • The early work on environmental attitudes suggested urban people had more pro-environmental attitudes.

  • Work that eventually tackled environmental behaviour also suggested urban folks had more pro-environmental behaviour

  • Virtually all of this work done in U.S.

    • Is Canada different?

Research questions

Research questions

  • Do urban residents express more pro-environmental attitudes?

  • Do urban residents practice more pro-environmental behaviour?

  • In today’s mobile society, does residence during socialization (prior to age 18) play a larger role in PEA and PEB than current residence?

Operating hypothesis

Operating hypothesis

  • There will be little to no difference between rural and urban residents in PEB if a broader and more “fair” set of measures are used.

  • Why?

  • Mobility (more people not living where they grew up)

  • Homogeneity of culture (similar exposure to mass culture)

  • Rural PEB was always there, it just looks different.

Key concepts

Key concepts

  • Social psychological variables

    • Pro-environmental behaviour

      • Behaviour that has a positive impact on Earth’s systems and natural resources

        • Public, Private, and Conservation-sphere PEB

  • Methodological wrinkle – The residence variable

    • Values are assumed to be formed through socialization (focus until 18th birthday)

      • Urban and rural settings may offer different environments for socialization

Key concepts1

Key concepts

  • Social psychological variables

    • Basic values

      • The set of standards/principles that guide our lives

        • Egoistic, Altruistic, Traditional

    • Environmental beliefs

      • Judgement and mental acceptance of the validity of a situation, statement or object

    • Environmental attitude

      • Evaluation that predisposes an individual to react consistently positively or negatively to a situation, statement or object

Cognitive hierarchy model




Environmental Beliefs

Basic Values

Cognitive hierarchy model

Causal model peb

Causal model: PEB

Traditional Values

Environmental Attitude

Private-sphere PEB


Altruistic Values


Conservation-sphere PEB



Egoistic Values

Public-sphere PEB

Environmental Beliefs

The survey

The survey…

  • Mail survey

  • Addresses provided by a marketing firm

  • Rural/Urban status based on Statistic Canada Rural Small Town definition (by postal code designation)

  • Overall 34.7% response rate



  • Basic values

    • 15 items; shortened Schwartz Values Inventory (Stern et al. 1998)

  • Environmental beliefs

    • 15 items; New Ecological Paradigm scale (revised version from Dunlap et al. 2000)

  • Environmental attitude

    • Priority of environment in daily life



  • Pro-environmental behaviour

    • Consumptive & stewardship behaviour

      • Turn out lights, conserve water, carpool

      • Frequency of involvement in habitat restoration, tree planting

      • Use of environmental services (e.g. recycling, public transit, community garden, composting subsidies)

      • Challenge = separating environmental motivations from simple frugality

    • Activist behaviour

      • Write politicians, sign petitions, attend meetings, financially support ENGOs



  • Residence

    • Categories: Remote, rural, adjacent to urban or urban area (definitions were provided):

    • What type of place respondent lived:

      • Until their 18th birthday

      • Most of their adult life

      • Their current residence



  • High correlation between

    • “Most of your life” category and “Until your 18th”

    • “Most of your life” category and “Current”

  • Creation of Residence Continuum:

    • Rural-socialized\Currently rural resident

    • Rural-socialized\Currently urban resident

    • Urban-socialized\Currently rural resident

    • Urban-socialized\Currently urban resident

Respondent profile

Respondent profile

Key results

Key results

  • Pro-environmental behaviour

    • Public-sphere: generally low engagement

      • Lower for Rural/Rural

      • Highest for Urban/Rural

    • Private and Conservation-spheres: generally high engagement

      • No statistically significant differences for Private-sphere PEB

      • Currently rural residents have statistically significantly higher Conservation-sphere PEB

Key results1

Key results

  • Environmental Attitude

    • Fairly high for all, no significant differences

  • Basic Values

    • Altruistic and traditional values: no significant differences

    • Egoistic values: Urban/Rural significantly lower than Urban/Urban



  • Availability of infrastructure plays a key role in engagement in Private and Conservation-sphere PEB

  • Rural citizens do not practice lower levels of PEB, as has been previously thought

    • Currently rural citizens practice more Conservation-sphere PEB

    • Private-sphere PEB does not differ between residence categories



  • Residence doesn’t play a very important role in the determination of environmental behaviour

    • Little difference in values and attitude (ex. Urban/Rural have lower egoistic values than Urban/Urban)

    • Differences in environmental beliefs are mostly due to lower levels of education in rural areas

  • Current residence is more important than past residence in determining engagement in PEB

    • Has more to do with available PEB infrastructure and possibilities than with socialization and attitudes.

    • What you do for PEB is more a function of what it makes sense to do given where you are.



  • Rural residents are no more or less pro-environment than urban residents.

  • Rural environmentalism expresses itself in a different way, through different actions.

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