Trust and Public Support for Environmental Protection in Diverse National Contexts

Malcolm H Fairbrother

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

71 Citations (Scopus)
405 Downloads (Pure)


Worldwide, most people share scientists’ concerns about environmental problems, but reject the solution that policy experts most strongly recommend: putting a price on pollution. Why? I show that this puzzling gap between the public’s positive concerns and normative preferences is due substantially to a lack of trust, and particularly political trust. In multilevel models fitted to two international survey datasets, trust strongly predicts support for environmental protection within countries, and by some measures among countries also. An influential competing theory holds that environmental attitudes correlate mostly with left versus right political ideology; the results here, however, show that this correlation is weaker, and varies substantially from country to country—unlike that with trust. Theoretically, these results reflect that environmental degradation is a collective action problem, and environmental protection a public good. Methodologically, they derive from the more flexible application of multilevel modeling techniques than in previous studies using such models.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)359-382
Number of pages24
JournalSociological Science
Publication statusPublished - 8 Jun 2016


  • Public opinion
  • Trust
  • Green taxes
  • Multilevel models
  • Environmental concern


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