Who Cares Most About Environmental Issues? The Answer May Surprise You.

I found this response from Dan Ariely to a question he received from a reader quite interesting. Here was that question:

Dear Dan,

I’m a journalist at a small newspaper serving a community that is largely non-white and low income. I proposed doing a story about the environment, but the editorial board is concerned that this topic won’t resonate with our readers. How should I proceed?

Here was Dan’s response:

The perception that Americans of color and those with low incomes care less about the environment than white Americans may be common, but it is both patronizing and false.

In a 2018 study, researchers asked Americans how concerned they were—and how concerned they thought a variety of other people were—about environmental issues. Most respondents thought that young people, white people, and women were the most worried about the environment. But in reality, Latino, Asian, Black, and low-income Americans reported being the most concerned.

(I have to admit to being surprised at such results. If you want to think about why Latino, Asian, Black, and low-income Americans reported being the most worried about the environment, then pause for a second before reading the next paragraph, to see if your reasoning matches what the researchers found)

Dan’s response continues:

Why might these communities be particularly concerned about the environment? To begin with, they are disproportionately likely to live in neighborhoods with high levels of pollution, little green space, and high concentrations of waste sites. Daily exposure to environmental risks may raise awareness and concern among Americans of color and those with low incomes.

So your editorial board is most likely wrong. To help such a story resonate with your readership—and to correct misperceptions around the issue—you might consider reporting your story in a way that reflects the ethnic and economic diversity of those who are concerned about the environment.

The results make sense to me.

I think most of us tend to be primarily concerned with the issues and problems we face each day.

If we face uncertainty about where our next meal will come from, that is probably on our mind 24/7. Issues such as the dispute in Ukraine are likely not something we would spend a lot of time thinking about.

If we have a sick relative whom we are caring for, that person becomes the focus of our world. Concern about whether a movie theater is going to be opening again is likely given little to no consideration.

So yes, it stands to reason that if Latino, Asian, Black, and low-income Americans are faced with environmental-related issues every day, such issues will be of primary concern to them. An individual not dealing with such problems on a daily basis might care about such issues, but likely not with the same deep concern as people who do have to deal with such concerns as part of their daily routine.

So I agree, such an article should be written by the reporter, not only to make people aware of the environmental issues but to also highlight who is most affected by such environmental issues.

*image from Dreamstime

50 thoughts on “Who Cares Most About Environmental Issues? The Answer May Surprise You.

  1. It’s a pretty condescending attitude to think that just because someone isn’t wealthy means, they’re less likely to care about the environment. That implies that more affluent people are somehow more socially conscious, which is also wrong.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I agree it is a condescending attittude, and such attitudes make me wonder if that is the result of the environment the person grew up in and doesn’t know any better. or is it an attitude they consciously chose….

      Liked by 1 person

    1. great point.

      and on a realted note, I know for a while my kids got so used to drinking out of the water cooler we have in our house that they wanted no parts of the water from the faucet. we have since stopped the water delivery, so now there’s no choice!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I think that the groups that we expect to care the most are the ones who get the most media coverage – white people, children, etc. – his reply though was spot on if you think about it. the average person who lives and works in places predominately made up of a lower socio-economic base, are the ones most impacted in day to day life by this, who can least afford to take time off to protest or be active in the cause, and also have the least public voice.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I agree it is a condescending attitude. There are so many affluent and privileged people who think they care about the environment who are clueless and too selfish to do much about it. Having concern about the environment is not the same as showing concerns by taking actions.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Condescending indeed. Maybe that’s why he is the editor of a small paper, rather than anything with a bigger circulation? As others have said, those who have the wealth to do something about the environment rarely use it to good effect, and editors like this probably fear a loss of ad revenue if they speak out.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. and you wonder if the editor’s attitude is the result of the environment he grw up in, or is an attitude he cultivated himself over the years. Neither way makes it right to have such an attitude, but I think some people just don’t know any better. ANd good point about the money; it always come back to that…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Therein lies the problem. Too many are convinced that they know right to even consider the possibility that they don’t, and that there might be more to learn.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Their also appears to be another assumption here that wasn’t discussed. The assumption that people of colour and or lower income are less intelligent and not as able to absorb or analyze the information presented to them. This to me is the more concerning trend than “they don’t care”.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This is not a hard one folks. My guess the answer depends on which environmental issues you’re talking about. The editor may be right if the story is about the Paris Climate Accords or sea level rise in the Maldives. On the other hand, if the story is about things like apartments with lead paint on the walls, polluted municipal water systems that are ignored (Flint, MI), the industrial plant in the neighborhood, or the effect of high levels of air pollution on their respiratory systems, then the editor is dead wrong. People in poor neighborhoods are definitely more interested in those matters than the average suburbanite.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Hmmm, a most interesting post, Jim. I have my own views on most peoples real attitudes towards ‘saving the planet’ and what sacrifices they are really willing to make. I’ve incorporated them into my latest short story.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. An interesting post and comments, Jim…If anyone watched the “The Earth shot” programme that highlighted that fact many of the ideas came from people from ethnic minorities and poorer countries, not all I will add but many people have the mindset that I’m alright Jack because they can…or they run the big conglomerates that effectively shackle the farmers etc which if you listen to the podcast on this Monday Musings it highlights just that…income needs to be more fairly distributed…

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Interesting stuff, and I agree with you, Jim. But as a former reporter on a small paper myself, i’d also suggest that journalist gets out there and speaks to people. Ah, miss those days….cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. You make a good point – we are concerned with things that affect us directly and immediately before we focus on other things.

    I feel that white people are perceived as more worried about the environment because they speak about it more often. Or at least the media makes it seem so. However, we cannot judge things based on the loudest voice.

    Liked by 1 person

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