Baha'i News -- The New Environmental Paradigm scale: Has it outlived its usefulness?

The New Environmental Paradigm scale: Has it outlived its usefulness?

ABSTRACT: The authors report a study that is based on the premise that, although it continues to be desirable to chart public attitudes toward the natural environment, the widely used 12-item New Environmental Paradigm (NEP) scale, published by R. E. Dunlap and K. D. van Liere in 1978, is in need of revision if it is to measure the public's more recent and sophisticated understanding of complex environmental issues. A quantitative and qualitative 2- stage international survey was conducted via the Internet in which respondents not only completed the NEP scale but also commented critically and in depth on the scale items. The authors determined that the NEP scale is limited with respect both to the anachronistic wording of items and its inability to capture people's increasingly thorough understanding of the nature, severity, and scope of environmental problems over the last 2 to 3 decades. Several suggestions are offered for updating the NEP scale if it is to continue to be a useful research tool.

Key words: environmental attitudes, environmental paradigms, Internet survey, New Environmental Paradigm

Social scientists and other scholars have been studying human attitudes toward nature for several decades. One of the challenges in the research has been to develop meaningful, accurate, and replicable measures of this affective domain of the human experience. Because most of the work has been conducted under the rubric of quantitative research, the measures have had to be conducive to that type of analytical methodology. One such measure is the New Environmental Paradigm (NEP) scale pioneered by Dunlap and van Liere in the 1970s and published in their seminal article, "The `New Environmental Paradigm': A Proposed Measuring Instrument and Preliminary Results" (Dunlap & van Liere, 1978).

The NEP scale has been used widely in a variety of settings since then, with varying success. Like many similar instruments, the NEP scale, in its original form, was a product of its time with respect to both conceptual content (then-- current understanding and articulation of the nature and scope of key environmental issues and values) and the language in which the concepts were couched. Consequently, administration of the unmodified scale to contemporary populations may be problematic because several items in the original scale are anachronistic with respect to substance and wording. This may be particularly true if the participants in a study are well educated and informed by a more recent and more sophisticated level of ecological and scientific understanding than the NEP scale was designed to or is able to capture.

Notwithstanding the limitations of quantitative research and the insights that accrue from qualitative investigations, administration of the NEP scale or a similar scale in diverse settings, to a variety of populations, and at different points in time, provides two important sets of benefits. First is the opportunity to explain variations in public attitudes toward the environment via the statistical analysis of associations among variables. Second is the potential for temporal, geographical, and social comparisons. However, when social scientists attempt to measure environmental attitudes, they face a dilemma that is common to all quantitative social research in which one of the objectives is to chart changes in aspects of human perceptions, attitudes, and behavior over time, space, and society. On the one hand, social scientists can choose to continue using a standardized scale for the purposes of comparability and replication; yet, if the instrument is outdated or otherwise tainted in some way, then the equally desirable objectives of relevancy and accuracy must be sacrificed. On the other hand, it may be preferable to forgo the benefits of comparability and replication in the interest of developing a more accurate, relevant, and contemporary instrument.

This article is based on the premise that it continues to be desirable to conduct large-scale quantitative research on environmental attitudes for the reasons already enumerated, but that the NEP scale is outdated enough to warrant serious revision, if not outright replacement. In this article, therefore, we report findings from a study that combined quantitative and qualitative methods to explore various dimensions of environmental attitudes. This orientation not only yielded quantitative data but also elicited critical comments and constructive suggestions from the respondents about the content and wording of the statements that make up the NEP scale.1


Researchers using the NEP scale have explored the extent to which people have rejected the various components of what Dunlap and van Liere (1984) referred to as the Dominant Social Paradigm (DSP) in favor of the New Environmental Paradigm. The former includes the following views: (a) the environment is an unlimited source of the resources that human beings require to exist and that they are justified in exploiting to suit their needs; (b) advanced technology is the key to averting resource scarcity and declines in environmental quality; and (c) economic growth is not only desirable but also represents the most appropriate measure of human success in exploiting natural resources (Dunlap & van Liere, 1978, 1984; Jackson, 1985, based on Cosgrove, 1982; Kahn, Brown, & Martel, 1976; Maddox, 1972; Milbrath, 1984; Miles, 1976; Simon & Kahn, 1984). The NEP, in contrast, reflects the "ecological consciousness" that emerged and was expressed widely in popular literature and in the media in the late 1960s and early 1970s (Dunlap & van Liere, 1978; Jackson, 1985; Kuhn & Jackson, 1989; Milbrath, 1984). In essence, according to Jackson (1985, p. 25), proponents of this position held that

a limited biosphere [imposes] constraints on technology and the possibilities for economic growth, which in turn is viewed as undesirable, given the negative environmental and social consequences which . . . are inevitable unless the "growth ethic" is rejected. A redirection of material aspirations is therefore demanded, and the quality of life is assessed in qualitative and less tangible terms.

Although the 12-item NEP scale originally was proposed by Dunlap and van Liere (1978) as a unidimensional framework, subsequent research has revealed that the scale comprises at least three dimensions: balance of nature, limits to growth, and relations with nature (Albrecht, Bultena, Hoiberg, & Nowak, 1982; Edgell & Nowell, 1989; Geller & Lasley, 1985; Gooch, 1995; Kuhn & Jackson, 1989; Noe & Snow, 1989, 1990). The multidimensional nature of the NEP scale indicates that environmental attitudes, even those generally viewed as proenvironment, are more complex than was originally supposed. Today's measuring instruments, then, need to capture that complexity and attempt to address the methodological problem of multiple interpretations of attitudinal statements.

A review of the research exploring the validity, reliability, and dimensionality of the NEP scale encourages us to make four distinct but interrelated observations:

*Interpreting high NEP scores as a single indication of a proenvironment stance oversimplifies the analysis (Albrecht et al., 1982; Geller & Lasley, 1985).

* Using conventional quantitative techniques to analyze the results obtained through administration of the NEP scale tends to obscure the complexity of the factors involved in promoting proenvironmental consciousness (Kanagy & Willits, 1993; van Liere & Dunlap, 1981).

*Despite growing concern for the environment, public behavior at the individual and public levels has not changed radically over the last 3 decades (Gigliotti, 1994; Scott & Willits, 1994; van Liere & Dunlap, 1983), although recycling programs and urban composting are examples of specific observed developments.

*Only a portion of so-called NEP studies to date have used the NEP scale in its original and complete form (Albrecht et al., 1982; Caron, 1989; Geller & Lasley, 1985; Kanagy & Willits, 1993; Noe & Snow, 1990; Schultz & Stone, 1994; Scott & Willits, 1994; Shetzer, Stackman, & Moore, 1991). Most studies have used only parts of the NEP scale or have reworded particular statements to reflect the specific focus of the research. Several authors have suggested that the scale could be reduced without losing precision (Geller & Lasley, 1985; Gooch, 1995; Noe & Snow, 1990; Pierce, Lovrich, & Tsurutani, 1987). In most cases, these researchers probably had justified reasons for making alterations. However, such revision reduced the validity of comparative statements that may be made regarding the generalizability of the results and reinforced the need for research approaches that take such issues into consideration.

The survey conducted as part of the present study addressed each of the previously mentioned concerns. First, it broadened the scope of the questionnaire to probe aspects of the human experience that underlie or may be subsumed within the three dimensions identified in the NEP literature cited. Included were three factors that might contribute to the formation of respondents' attitudes or broader global concerns, such as religious beliefs and affiliation, levels of scientific understanding, and other aspects of individuals' personal world views. Second, the survey looked more deeply into the limi\tation in environmental attitude research (identified previously) to determine whether there are factors underlying human resistance to act on moral principles that are not readily discernible or that may not emerge in a survey or other types of quantitative research. If the general public is expressing greater concern for the environment, but is not acting in ways that reflect that concern, research is needed to find out why. Third, the survey used the NEP scale in its entirety, with only specific word changes to accommodate gender-inclusive language (e.g., "man" was replaced with "humankind"). Finally, the survey used a combination of quantitative and qualitative techniques, thus providing data to assist in the evaluation of the relevance and validity of specific NEP scale items. Taken together, these strategies ensured that the research project built on and extended existing knowledge. Also, by carefully examining the responses to NEP items and the editorial comments provided by many of the respondents, we were able to detect strengths and weaknesses, both in the wording of the original NEP scale and in the concepts inherent in it.

One final point relates to the geographical context of NEP research. NEP studies to date have focused almost exclusively on populations within a limited geographical area, usually sampling people living within a region or attending a university within a particular country. One exception reported results of a three- nation study that used five NEP statements in a broad questionnaire (Milbrath, 1984). Unlike other contributors to this literature, Milbrath acknowledged significant groups that were underrepresented in the samples, He noted, however, that his sample was a good cross- section of "those people who are most likely to understand environmental questions, to play an active role in contests over environmental issues, and to be active in abetting or resisting social change" (Milbrath, 1984, p. 16). Two other exceptions are Pierce et al. (1987), who compared NEP results in different groups in Japan and the United States using a 6-item NEP scale, and Gooch (1995), who looked at the NEP in conjunction with three other environmental scales in Sweden, Estonia, and Latvia, using the same 6-item scale that Pierce et al. (1987) used. The study on which this article was based was the first use of (a) the entire NEP scale in a study explicitly designed to elicit respondents from (b) as many geographical regions as the Internet (see next section) currently reaches.

Data Collection and Respondent Profile

Survey Administration

We collected data for this study by questionnaires that were distributed using electronic mail. Following a pilot study, we determined that a two-stage approach would be most effective in eliciting the depth of response we sought. In addition to conventional scale items and other closed questions, open-ended questions were used. We recognized, however, that the inclusion of open-ended questions could be an inhibiting factor because of the time and effort required in responding. Thus, we attempted to attract a diverse respondent pool of approximately 300 people with the first survey, which was composed primarily of NEP-- scale and other attitudinal items (closed questions). We then invited those who were interested in further participation to respond to a second survey that explored their attitudes and beliefs in greater detail and elicited longer comments. It should be noted that the NEP- related editorial comments discussed in the Results section accompanied respondents' numerical responses to NEP items and were not solicited by the researchers.

The structure of the questionnaires used for the study followed standard guidelines for social-science surveys. E-- mail was used to distribute the questionnaires because it provided a vehicle for gaining access to a geographically dispersed population that also is characterized by multiple interests. Although Internet-based research is becoming more widespread as large numbers of researchers recognize and take advantage of its benefits, this was the first study in environmental-attitudes research to use it.2

The first survey was distributed in the early fall of 1996. Prospective e-mail discussion groups were identified through the first author's participation in groups related to environmental and religious issues and following an intensive search of the Internet, using key words such as "environment" and "religion." This search yielded approximately 50 potential destinations for the survey. After receiving permission from e-mail discussion-group "list owners," we used 20 groups for distribution of the first questionnaire. In some cases, the list owners posted the questionnaire themselves; in others, the researcher was invited to subscribe for the duration of the study. Details regarding the discussion groups and the methodological and technical issues related to the survey delivery are discussed in Lalonde (1998, 2000a).

Respondent Profile

The survey elicited a total of 328 responses from people living in 23 countries. The second stage of the survey was completed by 222 of these respondents. Thirty-seven percent (n = 121) of the respondents were women; 63% were men (n = 207). The ages of the respondents ranged from 18 years to more than 60 years, with roughly 77% falling between 26 and 55 years of age. The largest group of respondents (n = 218; 66%) was from the United States and represented 42 states. Thirty-two people (10%) were from Canada, 34 (10%) were from 10 countries in Europe, 22 (7%) were from Australia and New Zealand, 15 (4.5%) were from Asia and the Middle East, 2 from Africa (specifically South Africa), and 1 was from Brazil.

We included characteristics such as occupation and income to demonstrate the respondents' diversity rather than to have them function as dependent or independent variables. These characteristics also helped to describe the profile of the overall research sample. A wide variety of occupations was represented, but most of the respondents were involved with or in some way affiliated with universities and other educational institutions. This category is blurred because some of those who identified themselves as "scientists" or "consultants" (n = 27; 8%) may also have been affiliated with academic institutions. A separate category was created for those scientists and others (n = 24; 7%) who identified their work as being related to the environment. Other occupations represented were service or clerical positions; restaurant and retail; health care, marketing, sales, and finance; computing and other technical services; and writing and other arts and entertainment professions. There were 71 university students, 2 members of the Christian clergy, and a few retirees and full-time parents. More than 55% of the respondents held graduate degrees and many were still attending university. Thirty-three percent (n = 107) of the respondents reported earning less than $20,000 per year.

Religion was a significant characteristic in this study (of which this article forms one part). Although the majority of the respondents who expressed a religious affiliation were self- identified Christians (32%), the sample also included other traditional (Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Taoism, and Judaism) and nonmainstream or nontraditional religions and spiritual movements (Baha'i, Paganism, and Unitarianism). A large number of major Christian denominations and several minor ones were included, with a significant proportion (37%) being Roman Catholic. There also was diversity within Paganism, Buddhism, and a scattering of other religions and spiritual movements, such as Spiritualism, the Theosophical Society, and Wicca. In addition to those affiliated with particular religions were those who adamantly were not affiliated with religion or even with the broader conceptions of spirituality (i.e., agnostics, atheists, and one "antitheist").

Results, Analysis, and Recommendations

The percentages of support for the NEP statements and the mean scores for the respondents' NEP scores are provided in Table 1. The mean score for the entire sample averaged across the 12 items was 4.19 (out of a possible 5), indicating strong overall support for the NEP statements. The two lowest scores (for NEP I and 10) are due to bipolar results, which are discussed later in this section.

NEP 3 and 4

The 2 items that yielded the strongest and least ambiguous responses were NEP 3 ("Humans must live in harmony with nature in order to survive") and NEP 4 ("Humankind is severely abusing the environment"). More than 92% of the respondents agreed or strongly agreed with these statements, producing NEP scores of 4.67 and 4.64 (out of 5), respectively. These 2 statements reveal the respondents' awareness of and concern for humanity's interconnections with and impact on nature. (With NEP 1 and 2, they are thought to reflect a "balance of nature" dimension within the scale; Albrecht et al., 1982; Edgell & Nowell, 1989; Geller & Lasley, 1985; Shetzer et al., 1991).


Although support for these 2 statements was very strong, analysis of the few people who disagreed with them revealed some interesting insights. Only 1 person strongly disagreed with both statements. A philosophy professor disputed both concepts, stating that NEP 3 "assumes humans and nature are distinct entities," and that NEP 4 reinforces the same concept as NEP 2 ("When humans interfere with nature it often produces disastrous consequences"). This respondent stated that "since humans always interact with their environment, it does not seem to often produce disaster." This person fell well below the group mean, with a total NEP score of 32 (out of a possible 60) and an NEP mean of 2.67. The other 19 people whose responses did not reflect the majority perception in this study were more moderate in their respective positions, showing mixed agreement wit\h the 2 statements.

The 6 people who commented on these statements provide insights into why they did not support them. Two people mildly disagreed and 1 person strongly disagreed with NEP 3. The person who strongly disagreed, an ecological economist, stated that "Modernity obviously is alive, but certainly not living in harmony with nature." An education researcher had a similar perspective; she wrote, "That remains to be seen. So far, we're oversurviving. That's one of the problems." The last person, a rancher, disagreed with the word "must" in the statement, writing that "there are a lot of humans in large cities that have nothing to do with nature as I believe is meant here, specifically in that their entire environment is artificial. There needs to be enough of humanity that is in harmony with nature, or it is certainly possible to see a nuclear winter and the inability to survive."

Some respondents who viewed this statement as problem-atic took issue with the term "harmony," viewing it as ambiguous. For example, a water-resource educator asked, "What does harmony mean? E.g., no human presence, interfaced human/natural ecosystems, managed nature preserves according to current human definitions and desires, etc." Although contemporary ecological knowledge and the higher than average level of education of this study's participants may be factors in their discontent, their criticisms raise a flag. Terms like "harmony" and "balance" were ubiquitous in environmental literature 20 years ago and still appear today in environmentalist propaganda; however, the terms are somewhat problematic. Scientists, in particular, have difficulty with such terms being used in conjunction with scientific concepts and processes known to be highly complex. Thus, although they may support the thrust of this NEP statement, they may find its wording problematic.

Two people strongly disagreed and 1 person mildly disagreed with NEP 4. The comments offered by these 3 respondents reflect a similar sentiment, highlighting the perception that the statement is too broad. Like NEP 2, NEP 3, and the "dominance" dimension of the NEP scale (NEP 9-12), NEP 4 implies a disconnection between human beings and the rest of nature that is rejected by many people today. Anyone who strongly believes that humanity is in a nonhierarchical relationship with nature is likely to respond to this statement in ways not anticipated when the NEP scale originally was devised. Respondents who wrote comments expressed a preference for a narrower focus on particular segments of society. If those who commented are representative of others who disagreed with the statements, then their disagreement does not represent an anti-environmental stance, but rather a more discriminating assessment of the particular focus of this and other NEP statements.

NEP 6, 7, and 8

Previous research has revealed that NEP 6 ("Earth is like a spaceship with only limited room and resources") and NEP 7 ("There are limits to growth beyond which our industrialized society cannot expand") are correlated strongly, producing a "limits to growth" dimension within the NEP scale. This study's respondents seemed to be clearly aware of and concerned about the limits to which nature can be pushed by industrial society, a finding that reflects one of the stronger themes--concern about population growth-- expressed by the participants in this study, especially in the open-ended questions. The respondents viewed NEP 6 and 7 as capturing this concern more accurately than the statement one might perceive as more directly relevant, that is, NEP 5 ("We are approaching the limit of the number of people the earth can support"). This apparently paradoxical result is addressed later in this section. One factor that may have prevented stronger support for NEP 6 is the "spaceship" metaphor. Many people objected to the metaphor even though they agreed with the concept it symbolizes.3 This dynamic in the NEP scale reflects the 2 decades between its original emergence, based on the environmental propaganda of the 1970s when the spaceship metaphor was a popular image in the media, and the themes and concerns of today, when such an image no longer is prevalent nor is it perceived as an accurate reflection of current understanding. Rather, it has been replaced by the more abstract, but scientific, notion of carrying capacity. If that scientific principle could be articulated in vernacular language for a revised NEP scale, it would be a useful update of the original wording of the statement and would represent an equally effective alternative to traditional JudeoChristian views of unlimited natural abundance.

NEP 8 ("To maintain a healthy economy, we have to develop a steady state' economy where industrialized growth is controlled") elicited fairly strong support (72% agreed with the statement). This support, however, was weakened to a certain extent by the datedness of the concept "steady state." Some respondents confessed ignorance of its meaning (see also Noe & Snow, 1989, 1990); others asked if it referred to Herman Daly's theories and expressed dissatisfaction with the limitations of the concept in light of the 2 decades of research that have revealed the complexities underlying links between the environment and the economy. Popularized in the media in the 1970s, the term is no longer part of the popular or even the general academic vernacular, although it may still be used by economists. Because a more generalized wording to eliminate the dated term would be almost identical to NEP 7 (which received very little critique from the respondents), it might be possible to eliminate NEP 8 from the scale. As an alternative, a statement related to the concept of "sustainable development" could be developed.

NEP 9, 10, 11, and 12

Previous studies have suggested that NEP Items 9-12 reflect the notion of "dominance" in human relations with nature. NEP 9, 11, and 12 elicited strong NEP support, whereas NEP 10 ("Humans have the right to modify the natural environment to suit their needs") revealed a bipolarity of views among the participants in this study, particularly regarding the terms "right" and "modify." For example, an investment counselor who mildly disagreed with the statement wrote, "All life forms modify their environment," and a university student in Malaysia who mildly agreed with the statement wrote, "All species have rights and coevolve with the environment." A researcher in New Zealand asked, "Do you mean this as an absolute right? What if we are (as I happen to strongly believe) an integral part of the environment? Then the concept of a 'right' becomes almost irrelevant."

These four statements appear to distinguish between those who subscribe to the conventional Judeo-Christian attitude expressed most directly in chapter 1 of Genesis and those who do not. However, these statements do not incorporate the notion of "stewardship" that has emerged from the environmental ethics and ecotheological literature of the 1980s and 1990s. This area needs attention in any scale used to discern environmental attitudes among the public and even among academic populations today. The terms in the statements that drew the most fire from the participants in this study were "rule," "right," "modify," and "adapt." Most concerns related to the extent to which human beings are part of or above nature. The biocentric principles espoused by contributors to the deep ecology movement and changing attitudes among exponents of Christian ecotheology seem to have had an impact on public consciousness and would need to be reflected in any revisions to the NEP scale, especially in this portion of it (see also Lalonde, 1998, 2000b).

NEP 1 and 2

NEP 1 ("The balance of nature is very delicate and easily upset") generated a bipolar response and the second lowest NEP score, with roughly 30% of the respondents disagreeing, 60% agreeing, and 10% indicating neutrality, which is relatively high when compared with neutral responses to other statements in this study. To help ascertain the reasons for this mixed response, we conducted further analyses of the respondents to see if variables such as income, education, age, or other factors were playing a role. The results suggest that education and area of expertise may have been important factors. Table 2 shows the relationship between education and support for this statement. A relatively high proportion of the respondents with above average levels of education (holding a master's or PhD degree) at least mildly disagreed with this statement. If a neutral response reflects an ambiguous reaction, possibly revealing discomfort with the semantics of a statement, then the lack of support for NEP I among those with a university education is even more evident. This speculation is further reinforced when one compares the level of support among those who had a university education with those who had not completed a university degree. More than 85% of the respondents who had not completed college agreed with the statement, in comparison with 55.2% who had completed at least one university degree. This finding is clarified even further when we recall that a high proportion of the respondents in this study were not only highly educated but also educated, employed, or both in environmental fields such as biology and forestry.


NEP 1, as it currently is worded, may be more suggestive of a superficial and possibly unscientific perception of environmental durability that has been popularized by environmental organizations and the media.4 Agreement with the statement may reflect a limited understanding of environmental problems rather than indicate support for a new environmental paradigm. Those who have greater scientific knowledge of the complexity of ecosystems and the processes that sustain them seem to object to such a superficial or overly romanticized labeling of the na\tural environment. For example, a biology professor who strongly disagreed with the statement wrote:

I think most ecologists would agree that this concept is a bit dated. Ecosystems function in particular ways, but these ways are not predetermined. There have been many different communities in the past, and likely will be in the future. They all function in different ways.

A biologist and former U.S. National Park ranger offered the most detailed critique of the notion of "balance" in this context:

Are we talking about the "balance" in a pond, a forest, the biosphere, or the universe? And are we talking about the physiological "balance" of an individual organism, the ecological "balance" of an ecosystem, or the "balance" of fundamental laws of "nature" that allow all of these things to continue? The lower (more fundamental) in this "hierarchy" of "laws" and "systems" we are, the more difficult it is to upset the balance. In fact, at the level of ecosystems, "balance" may not even be a good metaphor, as these are dynamic and always shifting, the rate depending in part on the spatial and temporal scales we're looking at.

This person's use of the term "dynamic" was echoed in other responses. However, in some cases, the respondents seemed to set the two terms in opposition to one another, as if they represented mutually exclusive concepts.

Comments accompanying responses to NEP 1 revealed weaknesses in the original wording of that item for contemporary populations. The current understanding of nature, as understood by those who are educated about the complex dynamics of its processes, is not delicate by any means. It is, in fact, quite robust, ably coping with anthropogenic impacts. If that were not the case, the entire biosphere might well have collapsed in the face of human activities since the onset of the Industrial Revolution. Such considerations seem to be necessary in any proposed revision of the scale.

NEP 2 ("When humans interfere with nature it often produces disastrous consequences") produced relatively strong support for the NEP (4.31), but it also elicited critique. Several of the participants in the study objected to the term "interfere" on the grounds that they view human beings as being as much a part of natural systems as other creatures are. Another area of contention was the term "disastrous." Human beings tend only to view as disastrous events that cause human suffering, often to the point of overlooking the anthropogenic causes of such events. For example, if the Red River valley was not heavily populated, the 1997 flooding in southern Manitoba (Canada) and North Dakota (United States) would not have been (perceived as) a "disaster," except perhaps by those few landowners immediately affected. However, the impact of the flood seems to have been exacerbated by the City of Winnipeg (Manitoba) floodway, a human-engineered system designed to minimize the impact within that city of the perennial flooding of the Red River. Just as Arcury and Christianson (1990) studied Kentucky residents for their different NEP responses in conjunction with a natural disaster, we believe it might be interesting to see how responses to this statement from residents of Manitoba and North Dakota might differ, depending on whether they live in Winnipeg or south of that city.

Because the wording of NEP 2 seems to be based on environmental thinking of the 1970s, it is possible that our current understanding of ecological processes may lead today's public to express a different attitude than this statement originally was designed to identify. Although not as problematic as other NEP statements, NEP 2 also seems to need revision to more accurately tap into current knowledge.


A strong pattern in the comments accompanying responses to NEP 5 ("We are approaching the limit of the number of people the earth can support") provides an unambiguous explanation for the relatively weak support for this statement. Among those respondents who disagreed and wrote a comment, 63% indicated that, in their judgment, we have long since exceeded the limit of people that the earth can support. Thus, a merely quantitative measuring of the response is insufficient to determine these participants' true attitude, which cannot be revealed by the NEP statement as it currently is worded. Indeed, a few of the people who agreed with the statement criticized the wording because a literal interpretation of it prevented them from expressing the opinion that we have exceeded the limit.

This one factor alone provides a significant and compelling argument for revision of the NEP scale if it is to be viewed as a valid and reliable tool for measuring environmental attitudes. It is clear from responses in this study that human population growth is a serious concern that is not addressed adequately by the original NEP scale. Furthermore, the related concept of overconsumption, which does not appear explicitly in the current scale, has become an almost interdependent corollary of concern about overpopulation. Revisions would need to take that fact into consideration if assessment of current public concerns is the goal of the research.

Discussion and Conclusions

One of the most important findings from the present research is the degree to which the NEP scale is limited by (a) problems in its wording and (b) a shift in orientation and an increasingly sophisticated understanding of the nature, severity, and scope of particular environmental problems over the last 2 to 3 decades. This observation does not imply that a transition from the so-called Dominant Social Paradigm to a New Environmental Paradigm has not occurred. On the contrary, there is ample evidence that such a shift has indeed happened, especially in Western industrialized countries. NEP research and other environmental attitude and behavior studies have revealed the extent to which public attitudes and values regarding the environment have changed in the last 2 decades. However, the degree to which the original NEP scale remains a valid and reliable measurement tool is open to discussion.

In terms of the wording problems, many of the most highly educated participants in this study had very clear objections to the wording of many items on the scale and its superficial articulation of some highly complex ecological principles. The bipolar responses to NEP 1 ("The balance of nature is very delicate and easily upset") and NEP 10 ("Humans have the right to modify the natural environment to suit their needs"), and the editorial comments regarding NEP 5 ("We are approaching the limit of the number of people the earth can support") and NEP 6 ("Earth is like a spaceship with only limited room and resources") emphasize a crucial point: The NEP scale clearly needs revision if it is to reflect the current knowledge base in this area.

In addition to the problems related to the language used in the NEP scale, there are conceptual problems. These problems are partially revealed by the specific wording of some NEP statements; others are more deeply submerged. Some are related to the fact that the scale was developed in response to environmental thinking of the 1970s and, thus, uses terms and concepts that were popular at the time. Other problems derive from the fact that there have been significant changes in public attitudes, social conditions, and scientific understanding of human environmental relations since then.

It is clear that the NEP scale, as it currently is constructed, has outlived its usefulness. It has been very effective in determining the extent to which different populations have rejected the so-called dominant social paradigm and adopted a new environmental paradigm. However, it is no longer effective for shedding light on the components of that paradigm. If it is to continue to be a useful research tool, it will need to reflect more adequately current environmental attitudes and their complexity. Furthermore, the components of the New Environmental Paradigm may need to be updated to reflect a shift in emphasis from the prominent 1970s' issues of air and water pollution to current planetary concerns, such as global climate change, deforestation, reductions in biodiversity, and sustainable development.

Several themes come to mind. First, imbalances in the consumption of resources in different regions of the world need to be addressed in any environmental attitude scale that seeks to investigate current concerns. The general public is much more aware of the inadequate distribution of resources around the world, with the current imbalance between the "haves" and "have nots." Second, the tension between those promoting purely technocratic solutions and those opposed to such solutions should be made more explicit. Third, the distinction between the notions of stewardship and human dominance needs to be addressed to reflect current popular sensibilities. Fourth, growing sensitivity to spiritual perspectives arising within ecology has received less attention in social science literature than may be warranted. The growth and influence of the biocentric attitudes associated with the deep ecology movement and environmentalist propaganda have had an impact on public attitudes regarding the environment for both good and ill. Finally, attitudes regarding radical expressions of environmental activism, such as treespiking and animal liberation, are potential subjects for consideration that did not exist when the original NEP scale was devised.


1. It should be noted that a revision of the NEP scale has been created by Riley Dunlap and some colleagues. Although it has been used in recent research (Floyd, Jang, & Noe, 1997; Stem. Dietz, & Guagnano, 1995), the scale itself has not been published and, thus, is limited to use by social scientists who may be interested in determining the extent to which it addresses some of the issues of datedness and language raised her\e.

2. A doctoral student used e-mail to communicate with environmentalists in Russia on their use of e-mail in their activities (see O'Lear, 1996).

3. This finding is similar to Arcury and Christianson's (1990) experience in 1984, when several of the participants in their study of Kentucky residents remarked that the statement was "weird" and threatened to discontinue the interview. The researchers decided to exclude the responses to that statement from their analysis and deleted it from the interviews conducted in 1988 (1990, p. 393). A sample of those from this study who commented reveals the thrust of their collective objection. A plant ecologist wrote: "I agree that there is limited room and resources, but I dislike Fuller's spaceship analogy because it implies we are the center of the earth, and that we have control over it." A philosophy professor wrote: "not like a spaceship, which has a destination and a purpose outside of itself:' A biologist wrote: "I guess I never found this to be a really convincing metaphor; the earth is just too beautiful and organic to be described by such a mechanical analogy." And a doctoral student in environmental education wrote: "I HATE the metaphor of a spaceship-too technocratic. In this metaphor, humans are often seen as the drivers of the spaceship, which I consider arrogant."

4. This speculation is reinforced by findings from a non-NEP study that probed the depth of environmental concern and knowledge among the general public. The authors of that study found that although concern for the environment was high, knowledge of the complexities of the issues involved and willingness to make changes in personal lifestyle were weak.

The researcher concluded that "current public interest in environmental matters does not have much depth" (Krause, 1993, p. 140). See Arcury et al. (1986) and Arcury and Christianson (1990) for further discussion of the links between environmental attitude and environmental knowledge, reinforcing Krause's observation.


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Roxanne Lalonde is a lecturer and Edgar L Jackson is a professor in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada.

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