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Young People and the Environment: Predicting Ecological Behaviour

  • Monica Thielking (a1) and Susan Moore (a1)

Abstract

The aim of this study was to assess the environmental attitudes, knowledge and behaviours of young people aged 11 - 16 years, and evaluate which factors best predict ecological behaviour, through testing the Model of Responsible Environmental Behaviour' (Hines, Hungerford & Tomera 1986-1987). Results indicted that while young people are not negatively disposed toward the environment, they have limited knowledge about the issues. Perceived personal responsibility toward the environment was shown to be the strongest predictor of ecological behaviour, followed by ‘action skills’ for boys and knowledge levels for girls.

To what extent are young people committed to or apathetic about environmental conservation, and what do they see as the barriers with respect to taking environmental action? One aim of the study reported in this paper was to assess the environmental attitudes, knowledge and behaviours of young people aged 11 - 16, and to assess gender differences in these variables. A second aim was to evaluate which factors best predict ecological behaviour in young people, through testing a model which incorporates environmental knowledge, attitudes, perceived action skills, beliefs about personal responsibility, and other personal factors as potential predictors. This ‘Model of Responsible Environmental Behaviour’ (Hines, Hungerford & Tomera 1986-1987) has not been previously applied to the prediction of adolescent ecological behaviour, by which we mean ‘any action taken to ensure that ecological relationships among living things do not deteriorate’ (Caltabiano & Caltabiano 1995, p. 1080).

Young people's relationships to the environment are important developmentally, and because adolescents are the ‘next generation’ of potential activists for environmental concerns. The task of identity formation (or development of a ‘sense of self’) in adolescence has been conceptualised as including the shaping and maturing of a personal ideology, with its associated beliefs, values, and behaviours (Erikson 1971, Kroger 1989). Marcia (1966) using Erikson's framework, conceived of ideology as incorporating views about religion and politics. However as social concerns change, so might the importance of different content areas for the formulation of ideology (Bennion & Adams 1986). For young people today, thinking about environmental concerns and dilemmas may be part of their identity development in the sense that such thoughts may be part of forming an ideology about the world. In Australia, the National Union of Students surveyed 7,400 students in 1990 and found that ‘the environment was hottest election issue amongst university students in Australia’ (cited in Youth Research Centre 1991, p. 3). Similar findings of strong environmental concern have been found in a range of other Australian studies of adolescent populations (Clark 1996, Connell el al. 1998, Iiving Saulwick & Associates 2000, Sykes, Yencken. Fien & Choo 2000). Environmental concerns involve several aspects, including attitudes toward the environment, knowledge of issues, and participation in pro-environmental behaviour. It is to these topics that we now turn.

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