In the Loop

Are environmental values "American" values?

Posted at 10:45 AM on February 2, 2007 by Jeff Horwich

That's a question we're thinking about for this next show. There are have been multiple studies and papers (here's a good one) suggesting that many of the basic values of American culture -- independence, control over our destiny, competition, materialism, optimism -- are in conflict with environmental messages (for example, making personal changes for the greater good).

As an influential conservative commentator puts it, environmentalism is "anti-capitalist; it is anti-freedom; it is pro-big government; it's pro-total control over as much of life as these people can engineer and one of the things [environmentalists] do is live in the world of doom and gloom." This doesn't speak to all Americans, of course; but it does speak to many, to varying degrees.

On the other hand, there are people arguing the opposite: that environmentalism and conservation can be as American as apple pie. The argument points that out Americans love their wild lands, and that they also love to be leaders -- they should lead in this area as well (The Economist made this point in a recent cover story).

Environmental groups are in the position of learning how to make the case in a way that resonates with Americans beyond those who already get the message. Can that be done? What's the trick?

February 2007
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