Public support for nature protection: its social and personal dynamics and its role in environmental change
van Koppen, Kris
Social Sciences Wageningen University Wageningen, Netherlands
Public support for nature protection: its social and personal dynamics and its role in environmental change.
In the Netherlands, among many other countries, concern is growing about the future of public support for nature protection and environmental change. Surveys of public support often focus on scores for environmental beliefs and attitudes, as well as specific behaviours, such as visiting nature areas, membership of environmental organizations, or volunteer activities. Knowledge about the social dynamics behind empirical trends of such variables, however, is limited. An important aspect of these dynamics is development of pro-environmental beliefs and activities in a person's biography. An often-heard argument is that because of a reduction of childhood experiences in nature, future citizens will be less motivated to support environmental protection. This paper explores this argument within the broader context of social and personal foundations of concern for nature. Theories about nature concern vary in a broad range between the biophilia hypothesis of Wilson at one end and constructivist accounts of 'contested natures' at the other end. Searching a middle ground between these extremes, the paper argues that there are indeed general patterns of positive response to natural settings with an almost universal standing in history; the character of such responses, however, is clearly mediated by social and cultural contexts, and also by individual childhood experiences. Subsequently, the paper investigates the impact of nature interaction on a broader environmental concern, on base of available evidence in literature. While it is far too simple to draw a direct causal line between appreciation of nature and engagement in environmental change, I argue that there are relationships between the two in terms of personal value bases and in terms of consumption patterns. The paper ends with considering what this implies for monitoring and mobilizing public support.