Do People Really Care about the Environment?
Angelo Eliades ! April 12, 2017 ” 7 1,985 # 14 minutes read
What we are doing to the forests of the world is but a mirror reflection of what we are doing to ourselves and
to one another. Chris Maser, Forest Primeval: The Natural History of an Ancient Forest
The idea of caring for our planet may seem like self-evident common sense to the
indigenous tribes of the world who live in close connection to the Earth. Likewise,
for all other environmentally-aware people worldwide, including green activists and
practitioners of permaculture (who are supposed to live by the ethics of care for the
people, care for the planet and taking only ones fair share). To such people, the idea
that others may not actually care for the planet may seem quite perplexing! Why
would they not care for the natural systems that sustain their lives?
W H Y P E R M A C U LT U R E ?
Is this actually the true state of affairs? We may have our own beliefs about how
people relate to the natural world around us, but before we jump to any assumptions,
we need to objectively determine whether people actually do or dont care about the
natural environment, and their reasons why.
You will know them by their fruits sustainable behaviour across nations The expression Do as I say, not as I do captures the pervasiveness of human
hypocrisy. Actions speak louder than words, and nothing expresses the truth about
people or groups of people more clearly than their actions. The concern for the
planet is visibly expressed by a societys sustainable behaviour or lack of it.
National Geographic has developed an international research approach to measure
and monitor consumer progress toward environmentally sustainable consumption
with its Greendex reports. A quantitative consumer study of 18,000 consumers was
used to produce a scientifically derived sustainable consumption index (and detailed
reports) of actual consumer behaviour and material lifestyles across 18 countries .
The 2014 Greendex Sustainable Consumption Ranking Index ranked the 18
countries studied in the following order from most to least sustainable.
South Koreans 3rd
South Africans 9th
In National Geographics Greendex, American consumers ranked last in regard to
sustainable behaviour. The study also found that they were are among the least likely
to feel guilty about the impact they had on the environment, even though they scored
very highly as believing that the choices individuals make could make a difference.
Conversely, Chinese and Indian consumers who rated highest in regard to
sustainable behaviour felt the guiltiest about their impact on the environment, even
though they had the least confidence that individual action could make a difference.
The contrast between perceptions, behaviour and the sense of responsibility to the
planet across the lowest and highest rated groups is significant.
The rankings show that the USA has the worst rating in terms of sustainability,
closely followed, unsurprisingly, by the other Anglo countries, Canada, Britain, and
Australia, with outsiders Japan and France (who by no coincidence are nations that
have also adopted US consumerist culture and values) sitting between them as the
worst six nations. For anyone capable of objective critical thinking, this should
immediately raise the question what is the common element here? Is this aberrant
behaviour a product of consumer capitalism, the values of modern Anglo culture, or
both? Thats a philosophical question for another place and another time. Despite the
facts, some may still have a few doubts about this ranking. How bad are the worlds
most unsustainable nations really?
Were definitely doing the wrong thing when were overconsuming, which is when
we use more than our fair share of global resources per capita, and when our
consumption is unsustainable. The facts and figures are irrefutable, and frankly, they
paint a very shameful picture.
According to Worldwatch Institute figures, North America and Western Europe
together makeup only 12% of the worlds population but account for 60% of private
consumption spending. By comparison, one-third of the worlds population living in
South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa account for only 3.2%. 
Americans make up only around 4.5% of the worlds population, but consume about
a quarter of the worlds fossil fuel resources nearly 25 % of the coal, 26 % of the
oil and 27 % of the worlds natural gas. . Some figures put the aggregated US
energy consumption at nearly 20% of the world total .
In term of resources, the US uses 30% of the worlds paper, 27% of its aluminum,
and 19% of the copper while creating half of the worlds solid waste . Other
figures put US consumption at 22% of the worlds fossil fuel, 33% of the worlds
paper and plastic, with the production of 24% of the carbon dioxide emissions .
Americans consume twice as much fossil fuel as the average person in Great Britain
and two and a half times as much as the Japanese . Part of the problem is the US
fondness for motor vehicles and a reluctance to use alternative forms of transport,
such as public transport. As of 2003, the US had more private cars than licensed
From 1900 to 1989 the U.S. population tripled, while its use of raw materials
increased disproportionately by a factor of 17. 
In the US, new houses in 2002 were 38 % larger than they were in 1975, even
though the number of people per household on average decreased.  Australians
rate much worse than the US, leading the world in floor space per capita. From 1984
to 2003, the average Australian house increased in size by 40%, from 162.2 sq. m to
227.6 sq. m, which is 10% larger than its US equivalent .
China is becoming the worlds leader in consumption of some resource such as coal
and copper, but the U.S. remains the leader for per capita consumption of most
resources, and consumes far more natural resources and lives much less sustainably
than any other large country of the world .
Behaviour reflects attitudes, and the figures may look quite shocking, especially in
respect to the USA. No country is being singled out here, its how the figures fall.
Regrettably, US energy consumption is off the planet, literally.
If the environment is not important to people, what is? You can never have too much evidence to hammer a point home. If there are any
doubts that behaviour reflects attitudes, its time to clear up any doubts once and for
all with more hard data. Lets have a look at some research of peoples attitudes in
the worst performing nation on National Geographics Greendex report, the USA to
highlight the correlation between attitudes and behaviour.
Pew Research Center conducted surveys in 2013 to rate how protecting the
environment ranks in the publics priorities, and the result was that 52% of
Americans believed that protecting the environment should be a top priority for the
president and Congress in 2013. Thats and increase from 41% in 2009, but still
lower than the 57% figure in 2006 and 2007. Before anyone gets too excited, thats
only how many people thought the environment was worth considering at all. A
priority here means nothing more than one single priority in a list of many
competing priorities, and when we look at where Americans placed the environment
on the list of priorities, its very telling.
Heres the complete list of priorities for Americans, along with the percentage who
believe each should be a top priority :
1. Strengthening nations economy 86%
2. Improving job situation 79%
3. Reducing budget deficit 72%
4. Defending against terrorism 71%
5. Securing Social Security 70%
6. Improving education 70%
7. Securing Medicare 65%
8. Reducing health care costs 63%
9. Helping poor and needy 57%
10. Reducing crime 55%
11. Protecting environment 52%
12. Dealing with nations energy problem 45%
13. Strengthening the military 41%
14. Dealing with illegal immigration 39%
15. Strengthening gun control laws 37%
16. Dealing with global trade 31%
17. Improving infrastructure 30%
18. Dealing with global warming 28%
Yes, the environment comes in as the 11th highest priority. Strengthening the
economy is first (what were you expecting!), with jobs, budget deficits, terrorism,
social security, education, Medicare, health costs, helping the poor and needy, and
crime all rating above the environment.
The evidence does point to the fact that the countries that overconsume dont
actually care about the environment, and their behaviour clearly reflects that!
Why would people not care about the environment? Do you really want to know the truth? When reflecting on our own culture, we often
take many things for granted, as a given, with the assumption that things can be no
other way. This is usually because we have no basis for comparison beyond our
narrow cultural perspective. The truth is that when we look beyond our culture, we
find there are many ways to live and understand the world.
When we engage in objective cultural critical analysis to identify the root causes of
problems, we often find that some people personally identify with certain aspects of
the culture being examined, in fact, they invest part of their personal identity in the
said culture, and therefore become defensive when confronted with inconvenient
truths. Id hate to say it, but despite our modern first world pretentions at being
logical and rational, and our thinly disguised sense of cultural superiority, were
nothing of the sort, were not prepared to look in areas where the facts conflict with
personal beliefs if you want the evidence for that which cites actual research, see
my PRI article Permaculture, Politics and Solutions Thinking.
Enough preamble, lets dive in! What are the primary reasons why people dont care
for the environment?
There are several reasons why people do not care about the environment, all of
which are deeply rooted in our cultural beliefs, values, and worldviews. Yes, thats
right, read that again if you need to the problem arises from what we believe about
our world since all of our actions begin with our thoughts The old English
expression A fish rots from the head down is also found in many other cultures,
including the Greek, an indication that many diverse cultures worldwide recognise
the fact that toxic and depraved thinking leads to problems down the track.
In this article, for the sake of brevity, we can only present an overview of each of the
root causes, in order to provide a general understanding. To truly do justice to the
topic would need to examine each of the root causes in depth in their own separate
articles, and engage in some very cutting critical cultural analysis.
So, without further ado, what are the reasons why people dont care about the
When you have a culture that promotes selfish individualism and empty materialism,
elevating these distasteful attributes to the level of desirable virtues, the outcome is
With individual greed, the act of having more and more becomes the preoccupation
of the masses. The advertising industry sells the lie that people can fulfill inner
psychological needs with external material objects, and that they can buy their way
to true happiness (with crap that they dont really need). The truth is that acquisition
of material objects (especially ones that arent needed) is an inappropriate
psychological coping mechanism to deal with a deep dissatisfaction in life,
disempowerment, social alienation and isolation, as well as a sense of lack of
meaning or purpose. These common maladies of first world countries are on the rise,
as is mental illness.
According to the World Health Organisation, depression is now the leading cause of
ill-health and disability worldwide. Rates of depression have risen by more than 18
percent since 2005, with 300 million people estimated to suffer from the condition.
 Obviously, the overconsumption we saw documented earlier is not helping to fix
peoples problems and the promise that it will is a sinister lie!
On a broader national level, money is put first and foremost before all other things as
a driver for collective decision making due to the disproportionate influence of the
state-sanctioned secular pseudo-religious cult known as Economics, to which all
things must be sacrificed peoples happiness, Nature and even the Earth itself.
Current research shows that this economic focus creates a psychological shift in
perspective that reframes the socially undesirable trait of greed as more acceptable
or even desirable one. 
When individuals put all their effort into obsessively acquiring material objects to
the point of unsustainable wastefulness, and nations put money and economics
above living things, something has to give, and its the environment and people that
bear the burden of unrestrained greed.
Many people are too overburdened by their modern lifestyles to care less about
anything other than their everyday wants and needs. With high housing prices,
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people spend most of their lives and most of their time working, trying to pay off
oppressively high levels of debt to maintain their lifestyles which are often based
around the theme of over-consumption and leisure.
The way modern industrialised societies operate, people are disconnected and
abstracted from Nature and where their food ultimately comes from. People may
either think that saving the planet is someone elses problem, or that theyre
completely powerless to do anything about it anyway. Lets be honest here, in a
culture that promotes diminished personal responsibility, where people arent even
responsible for themselves, how can we expect that theyd be responsible for their
community or the planet. Being ignorant and self-absorbed doesnt help either, and
with psychological research showing growing levels of narcissism, the advent of
Generation Me and the selfie-culture, its obvious something is amiss!
A common assumption among scientists today is that with more knowledge, people
will make the right decisions or at least better decisions, and change their behaviour.
Research has shown that with both politically influenced thinking , or thinking
in relation to environmental issues , this is definitely a flawed assumption and
clearly not the case.
What is technological utopianism? Weve all overheard people saying Sometime in
the future, science will cure all diseases, solve world hunger, eliminate pollution
and all other manner of miracles. Technological utopianism is a belief that advances
in science and technology (basically an increase in knowledge), will eventually
bring about a utopia, or at least help to fulfill one or another utopian ideal. In reality,
its nothing more than a false belief, an irrational narrative that science and
technology will solve all of our environmental issues and all of our other problems
too, so, for now, we can absolve ourselves of any responsibility for our planet
because someone else will fix the problem at some unspecified point in the future.
The logical flaw of technological utopianism lies in its basic premise that science
and technology that is creating the problems will somehow also be able to solve all
the problems that it creates. To quote the eminent scientist Albert Einstein on this
matter We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we
It should be apparent that the narrative of technological utopianism is not only
illogical, but it is also a faith-based secular belief unsupported by evidence. Critics
rightfully claim that techno-utopianism wrongly equates social progress with
scientific progress, and this irrational belief in science is nothing more than the
substitute pseudo-religion of scientism.
University of Alberta researcher Imre Szeman, who wrote System Failure: Oil,
Futurity, and the Anticipation of Disaster made the comment that Technological
utopianism is a very bizarre narrative because theres no evidence of this fact
What it shows is the extent to which we place a lot of faith in narratives of progress
and technology overcoming things, despite all evidence to the contrary. 
(Misinterpretation of) Religion
People can and do interpret religious teachings of all sorts as they choose in order to
support their beliefs. Its not a religious thing, its a human thing. Weve seen
with technological utopianism and scientism how allegedly logical secular types
can turn the discipline of science into a substitute religion and use it to rationalise
and justify damaging the environment. Why should it be any different with any other
ideology, philosophy or system of religious belief? Humans are versatile, innovative
and creative, especially when it comes to denying reality to support their own views!
Now, Ive read a lot of comparative religion and spirituality over the years, and from
my understanding the allegedly religious views used to justify not caring for the
environment are neither canonical nor commonly accepted, theyre there in the
fringe extremes and atypical exceptions to the norm, though sometimes theyre quite
prominent and vocal.
US Republican congressman John Shimkus, speaking before a House Energy
Subcommittee on Energy and Environment hearing in March 2009, opposing the
limiting of carbon emissions, quoted the Book of Genesis Chapter 8, Verse 22 to
insist that we shouldnt concerned about the planet being destroyed because God
promised Noah it wouldnt happen again after the great flood. He stated The earth
will end only when God declares its time to be over. Man will not destroy this earth.
This earth will not be destroyed by a flood.
The congressmans reasoning here is that global warming would cause flooding, and
that cant happen again because of a promise the Abrahamic deity gave the Jewish
people approximately 2,000 years ago, so he believes that no amount of carbon
emissions will destroy the planet. Reasoning within the framework of this system of
belief, theres a glaring hole in this logic perhaps global warming can destroy the
planet in ways other than flooding! According to current research, temperature rises
resulting from global warming are forecast to lead to drought, crop failures and mass
starvation in the tropics and subtropics. It is estimated that global food shortages will
become three times more likely as a result of climate change.
In my opinion, people who believe that theyve found a loophole in divine law and
then knowingly and willingly behaving irresponsibly, acting in ways that can destroy
the planet to maximise corporate and industry profits are seriously tempting fate, and
pardon the pun, dicing with the Devil
Just to show that humans can twist things around to suit them any way they like, we
also have a competing fringe religious misinterpretation that natural disasters and
events such as global warming are a sign of the end times, the Apocalypse, and
that the action of environmentalists to save the planet would be working against the
divine grand plan to reboot humanity and life on the planet by delaying it.
Contrary to these opinions, as far as I can understand, the teachings in the books of
Christianity or any other religion do not support trashing the planet for money,
tempting fate by trying to destroy the planet to test the power of their deity, or
speeding up the end of the world as we know it or assisting in the process!
In conclusion Its clear who the least sustainable nations of the planet are, and its worrying that
they feel the least guilt about their actions and their effects on the environment. They
simply dont really care that much about the planet, in their minds they have far
more important priorities which they place ahead of environmental concerns.
In our brief examination of the main reasons why people dont care for the
environment, we have seen how depraved worldviews, beliefs, and values have
significant and profound consequences for the planet and its people. In terms of
solutions, theres a crucial clue here, the way to change the world is to change how
people think about it!
The facts and figures clearly show that the state of affairs in respect to the
environment in English-speaking first world countries are not good. If there ever
was a clear call to action for environmental activists and permaculture practitioners,
if this isnt it, I dont know what is!
1. National Geographic, Greendex Reports 2014
2. Worldwatch Institute, The State of Consumption Today Global Inequities
3. World Population Balance, Population and Energy Consumption
4. Scientific American, Use It and Lose It: The Outsize Effect of U.S. Consumption
on the Environment
5. Sierra Club, Sustainable Consumption
6. Why are our houses getting bigger? Emma Sorensen,
7. Pew Research Center, Protecting the Environment Ranks in the Middle of
Publics Priorities for 2013, Apr 22, 2013
8. World Health Organisation News release 30 March 2017 | GENEVA,
Depression: lets talk says WHO, as depression tops list of causes of ill health
9. Long Wang, Deepak Malhotra and J. Keith Murnighan, Economics Education and
Greed, doi: 10.5465/amle.2009.0185 ACAD MANAG LEARN EDU December 1,
2011 vol. 10 no. 4 643-660
10. Kahan, Dan M. and Peters, Ellen and Dawson, Erica Cantrell and Slovic, Paul,
Motivated Numeracy and Enlightened Self-Government (September 3, 2013).
Behavioural Public Policy, Forthcoming; Yale Law School, Public Law Working
Paper No. 307. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2319992 or
11. University of Alberta. People generally do not act on information on the effects
of oil on the environment. ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 28 May 2010.
12. Szeman et al. System Failure: Oil, Futurity, and the Anticipation of Disaster.
South Atlantic Quarterly, 2007; 106 (4): 805 DOI: 10.1215/00382876-2007-047
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Ken April 15, 2017 at 12:11 pm
I have been looking at our global problems and how they can be addressed for a few years and it all boils down to town planning, I want to build futuristic sustainable towns and have figured out how it can be done financially and construction wise but I lack a team to make it happen. a little controversial as its not how we do thing now and creates a solution for refugees equality and environmental issue resolutions. that we could all live in affordable housing that is environmentally friendly within 20 years. BUT who wants that right?
donna devadoss April 15, 2017 at 9:58 pm
The laws make a huge difference in the US. Sustainability in one way or another is restricted for most people. We have arrested people for everything from growing a garden to small wind turbines and collecting rainwater. Zoning laws prevent small houses, our recycling centers closed by restrictions that prevented anyone but waste management a huge corp from even collecting garbage. Everything even the things that look like they are good are only designed to impoverish and enslave people and feed the corporations. The people cant stop over consuming without threat of jail.
JJ April 18, 2017 at 11:13 am
Noam Chomsky or Russell Brands Revolution explains why we are in this mess.
John November 23, 2017 at 5:41 am
Interesting. However the top two on the list (India and China) have the worlds worst pollution problems! I think you forgot to factor in human population issues. The rest of the world can do all it wants, but as long as you have two heavily polluted countries with billions of people and almost no environmental standards it wont matter.
AMB June 12, 2019 at 8:49 am
yeah I have to agree with john India and China do have high pollution rates
Angelo Eliades January 3, 2019 at 10:05 am
Hi John, National Geographics Greendex Sustainable Consumption Ranking was developed an international research approach to measure and monitor consumer progress toward environmentally sustainable consumption, its not a measure of absolute environmental pollution levels.
AMB June 12, 2019 at 8:57 am
so why do India and China in one of the most sustainable countries???
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