City versus Country – Where we live has little to do with how environmentally conscious we are – Knowledge


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City dwellers repeatedly accuse the rural population of not being environmentally conscious enough. what’s up

“Building your little house in the last remaining idyll and at the same time demanding a top public transport connection is a financial and ecological disaster for society”, writes user «tleu». He lives in the city.

“Perhaps they should start treating you in our country as badly as you would like to treat us,” replies user «Mastplast». He lives in the country.

This brief dialogue from our comment column on interview with the German environmental psychologist Gerhard Reese is just one of many. The discussions under our article and in the public discourse clearly show that the urban-rural divide in terms of sustainability seems large.

There is no ditch

People in rural areas would do too little to protect the climate. The city dwellers are condescending and simply don’t understand life outside of the urban centers: mutual accusations persist. Most recently after the CO2 law failed at the ballot box.

But what about the supposed sustainability gap between town and country? For “SRF Knowledge”, ETH researchers have used data from the “Swiss environmental panel» evaluated and came to the conclusion: The ditch does not exist at all.

The place of residence has little to do with whether a person is environmentally conscious: While 44 percent of those surveyed from the city have a high awareness of sustainability, the figure is 38 percent in the country. According to researchers, this difference is insignificant.

Polluters are rich and educated

Sarah Gomm, political scientist and researcher involved in the project, is not surprised by the results: “Other socio-demographic factors have a much greater impact on attitudes towards the environment.”

This means that political views, education, income and gender – women tend to be more environmentally conscious – play a much greater role.

What does “environmental awareness” actually mean?


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A person’s environmental awareness consists of knowledge, attitude, intentions and resolutions about the environment. This gauge does not indicate a person’s actual behavior. Just because someone is very concerned about global warming doesn’t mean they can’t have a large carbon footprint.

Plus – and here comes the catch – being very conscious of the environment does not mean that you act accordingly. On the contrary: attitude and effective action often diverge. “Educated, wealthy people are often very environmentally conscious, but at the same time they often have a larger carbon footprint,” says Gomm. This applies to practically all of Switzerland. Because income and level of education are very high in this country compared to other countries.

Political glasses are crucial

So why is the gap between town and country so big when it comes to a vote like the CO2 law? For Thomas Bernauer, professor of political science at the ETH and head of the environmental panel, the political attitude is above all decisive: “In order not to have to think too much, most people simply vote with their political glasses.” In contrast to the urban population, people in the country tend to be more conservative.

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According to Bernauer, it would be more effective to respond more to individual needs: If, for example, the taxation of petrol and diesel are the main reasons against the CO2 law, more charging stations for electric cars could be built. “After all, we are all equally affected by global warming – regardless of whether we live in the country or in the city.”

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