Environmental attitudes and the politics of distrust

Malcolm H Fairbrother*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

42 Citations (Scopus)
476 Downloads (Pure)


This article reviews recent studies showing that distrust lies at the heart of the serious crisis of sustainability that humanity is failing to address, insofar as distrust of environmental scientists, communicators, and policymakers are all undermining public demand for better public policies. Generalised distrust of scientists is rare, but political distrust is ubiquitous, such that even people who are concerned about environmental problems are often opposed to potential policy solutions. There are also people, however, who do not even believe in some of the problems—most notably climate change. This scepticism is sometimes interpreted as a consequence of their preferring free markets to regulation; in other ways, though, the sceptics are not at all sympathetic to free markets. What appears more distinctive about them is their distrust of virtually all elite social institutions, including communities of experts, and a corresponding divide between their beliefs and preferences and those of experts generally.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere12482
Number of pages10
JournalSociology Compass
Issue number5
Early online date2 May 2017
Publication statusPublished - May 2017


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