Education and the Demand for Green Governance

By boosting educational attainment, urban economic growth helps put environmental issues on the political agenda in several ways. People with more education tend to be more interested in quality of life issues, such as the environment, that go beyond bread-and-butter concerns.8 People with more education tend to be more patient and more likely to support costly investments that address long-run environmental threats.9 More educated people are more likely to demand in-depth analysis of environmental issues. This sets a virtuous cycle in motion by providing incentives for the media to research and present stories on pollution and the environment. Finally, people with more education tend to play a more active political role. For example, educational attainment is positively associated with the likelihood that a person votes.10

Data from voting on binding ballot initiatives in California provide an opportunity to test the link between education and green policy preferences. Such initiatives are translated directly into legislation if they

8. Of course, all environmental problems are not created equal. Public health concerns, for example, are a much more salient issue with urbanites than the more abstract notion of a growing ecological footprint. Tell a city's residents that the city's footprint has grown 40 percent over the last decade, and there is unlikely to be a rush to the mayor's office demanding action. Contrast this with the outcry that would occur in the event of a public health crisis, such as an outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).

9. Becker and Mulligan (1997).

receive a majority vote. Over the last thirty years, voters in California have had the opportunity to vote on a wide array of environmental issues, including increasing expenditure on public transit, raising gasoline taxes, weakening antismoking laws, selling bonds to improve the quality of the water supply, and improving local air quality. By matching voting data to data on local educational achievement (at both the census tract and the county levels), I have shown that areas with a higher proportion of college graduates are consistently more likely to support the pro-environment position.11

Similar evidence comes from congressional voting records. Since 1970 the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) has published an annual scorecard that rates each legislator's environmental record.12 These ratings are based on votes that a panel of experts has identified as the most important environmental issues of the year. For example, in 1998 the LCV focused on thirteen environmental votes on such issues as takings, logging in national forests, Alaskan logging roads, Gulf of Mexico fisheries, restricting environmental protections, energy efficiency programs, the global warming gag rule, and tropical forest conservation. A legislator voting the pro-environment position on six of twelve bills would receive a score of 50 percent. Using data from 1970 to 1994 on the average LCV score for each state's congressional delegation, I have found that legislators from states with higher educational levels are more likely to vote pro-environment. A 10 point increase in the percentage of adults who are college educated increases pro-environment voting by 11 percentage points.13

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