Challenges in Assessing Public Opinion on Economic Growth Versus Environment: Considering European and US Data

Stefan Drews*, Miklós Antal, Jeroen C.J.M. van den Bergh

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

The enduring scientific debate about economic growth versus the environment has recently received new impetus. Nonetheless, there is virtually unanimous support for growth in politics. This may partly be due to an assumed social consensus about the desirability of growth. Here we examine public perceptions relevant to the growth debate by using data from a large number of representative surveys conducted in Europe and the US. The main findings are: (i) a relative majority of respondents seem to believe that economic growth and environmental protection are compatible, even though a fraction of the population might have unstable opinions; (ii) when people have to choose, environmental protection is prioritized in most surveys and countries; and (iii) the public has limited factual knowledge of relevant concepts and data, such as the meaning of economic growth and past GDP growth rates. These findings are discussed and further qualified. We highlight the importance of methodological aspects such as question wording and format in the interpretation of the results and draw implications for political debate and future research on economic growth and the environment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)265-272
Number of pages8
JournalEcological Economics
Volume146
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2018

Keywords

  • Economic growth
  • Environmental sustainability
  • Political debate
  • Public opinion
  • Public preferences

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