Public attitudes toward environmental protection in the most developed countries: The Environmental Concern Kuznets Curve theory

J Environ Manage. 2019 Feb 1;231:968-981. doi: 10.1016/j.jenvman.2018.10.087. Epub 2018 Nov 12.


This paper presents the Environmental Concern Kuznets Curve (ECKC) theory about decreasing environmental concern in the most developed and protected area-rich countries. We analyzed the relationship between the protected area (PA) coverage, environmental concern and GDP per capita in the 42 most developed countries in the 1990s, 2000s and 2010s. Our conclusion is that 1) as countries develop, environmental protection becomes less dependent on economic development; 2) at high levels of economic development, environmental concern decreases; 3) environmental concern reaches a maximum at 20-30% of PA coverage and decreases beyond this point. The influence of human values and factors at the local level was determined by a national survey (n = 999) on public attitudes toward greater conservation of forests in Slovenia. The results comply with the ECKC theory; the higher the naturalness of forests in the surroundings of a respondent's home, the lower the support for greater conservation. However, the study suggests that human values play a prominent role. Support for conservation largely depended on the respondents' general attitude toward forest cover and growing stock, harvesting intensities, satisfaction with the level of control in forests and concern for the population of protected brown bears. The general belief that ecosystems are fragile and there are limits to growth increased support for conservation by 33%. We conclude that the environment in the most developed countries is likely to experience increasing pressure due to decreasing environmental concern and its decoupling from objective problems.

Keywords: Developed world; Environmental behavior; Forest values; New ecological paradigm; Protected area; Public opinion.

MeSH terms

  • Attitude
  • Conservation of Natural Resources*
  • Developed Countries
  • Ecosystem*
  • Humans
  • Slovenia