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Recession: Environmental Issues Remain Important to Public

Sep 21, 2015 04:49 PM EDT

National and world concerns about climate change and environmental policy have actually remained strong despite the 2008 Great Recession, say researchers at the University of Kansas and the University of California Irvine.

"To our surprise, we found that interest in environmental issues is well and alive," said Robert Rohrschneider, at the University of Kansas, in a release. "People are just as concerned with ecological issues as they were in 2000 and even in 1993 when the (environmental) movement was by all accounts quite vibrant."

The researchers' findings were included in a recent special issue of the Environmental Politics journal. In it, researchers analyzed public-opinion poll results concerning environmental issues. Those results came especially from the International Social Survey Program, and they focused on public support for valuing the environment, environmental activity involvement, and the ways that economic conditions within a nation influenced how individuals and political parties view environmentalism.

The survey's data included 1993, 2000 and 2010 figures from countries across the world. In order to look at the significance attached to issues regarding the environment not long after the official recession, the researchers specifically chose to study the 2010 data.

In the past, such as in the 1970s, hard times in the economy often made the environment less important to policymakers and citizens, as Rohrschneider noted in the release. "Initially the environmental movement was a protest movement of the 1970s, because all the major established policymakers didn't care too much about it," he said. "Back then, environmental advocates could only make inroads into the system after economic issues were taken care of."
More and more green parties have emerged in Europe, and to a smaller extent in the United States, as economies became more stable in the 1980s and 1990s.

"There's an infrastructure in place that actually sustains interest in these issues beyond ephemeral public attitudes, and that seems to help the environmental movement now," Rohrschneider said in the release.

News stories about drought, melting glaciers, and other climate change have also kept the issues at the forefront. "Everyone has heard about a drought here and there, but once you hear it 10 times over a period of 15 to 20 years, one begins to wonder as an ordinary citizen," Rohrschneider said in the release. "The same is true about rising sea levels. There seems to be in the news environment a constant reminder in the air that shows people this is a really pressing issue."

Russell Dalton, a political science professor at UC Irvine, co-edited the journal's special edition. 

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