City Dwellers Are More Green-Minded, Study Finds

People who live in big cities are more likely to participate in “green” behaviors than their rural-dwelling counterparts, a new study suggests.

Researchers with the Michigan State University in East Lansing surveyed over 5,000 people living in large and small Chinese cities. They found that big city residents are more likely to recycle, volunteer for environmental organizations, and care about environmental issues.

Although the study was restricted to China, its implications are far-reaching, said head researcher Jiangua “Jack” Liu, a sustainability scientist at Michigan State University.

“China is the largest country in the world, it has had the fastest growing economy in the last three decades, and urbanization is growing really fast,” Liu said, adding that China produces more carbon dioxide emissions than any other country. “Anything that happens in China now is affecting the rest of the world.”

Participants were asked six questions about their behaviors in the last year: whether they had sorted their garbage, talked about environmental issues with relatives or friends, recycled plastic packing bags, volunteered for environmental education programs, or participated in environmental litigation.

Liu and his colleagues found that people living in the country’s largest cities — such as Beijing, Shanghai, and Tianjin — were more likely to engage in environmentally conscious behaviors than those living in smaller cities.

Despite the commonly held notion that environmentalism is more prevalent among the wealthy, researchers did not find a correlation between income and “green” behaviors. Instead, they said simply being employed was a bigger factor. Liu speculated that this was because many Chinese employers host company-sponsored events to encourage environmental action.

In addition, big city dwellers are more likely to come into direct contact with pollution and other environmental issues in their daily lives, which may make them want to do something about those problems.

“What we found was that in big cities, people are more likely to take environmental action,” Liu said. “The big question is whether those actions will be enough.”

The study was published in Tuesday’s edition of the British journal Environmental Conservation.

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