Personal Values, Beliefs, and Ecological Risk Perception
A mail survey on ecological risk perception was administered in the summer of 2002 to a randomized sample of the lay public and to selected risk professionals at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA). The ranking of 24 ecological risk items, from global climate change to commercial fishing, reveals that the lay public is more concerned about low-probability, high-consequence risks whereas the risk professionals are more concerned about risks that pose long-term, ecosystem-level impacts. To test the explanatory power of the value-belief-norm (VBN) theory for risk perception, respondents were questioned about their personal values, spiritual beliefs, and worldviews. The most consistent predictors of the risk rankings are belief in the new ecological paradigm (NEP) and Schwartz's altruism. The NEP and Schwartz's altruism explain from 19% to 46% of the variance in the risk rankings. Religious beliefs account for less than 6% of the variance and do not show a consistent pattern in predicting risk perception although religious fundamentalists are generally less concerned about the risk items. While not exerting as strong an impact, social-structural variables do have some influence on risk perception. Ethnicities show no effect on the risk scales but the more educated and financially well-off are less concerned about the risk items. Political leanings have no direct influence on risk rankings, but indirectly affect rankings through the NEP. These results reveal that the VBN theory is a plausible explanation for the differences measured in the respondents' perception of ecological risk.