Empirical studies of public opinion on environmental protection have typically been grounded in Inglehart’s post-materialism thesis, proposing that societal affluence encourages materially-sated publics to look beyond their interests and value the environment. These studies are generally conducted within, or at best across, Western, democratic, industrialized countries. Absence of truly cross-cultural research means the theory’s limitations have gone undetected. This article draws on an exceptionally broad dataset—pooling cross-sectional survey data from 80 countries, each sampled at up to three different points over 15 years—to investigate environmental attitudes. We find that post-materialism provides little account of pro-environment attitudes across diverse cultures, and a far from adequate explanation even in the affluent West. We suggest that unique domestic interests, more than broad value systems, are driving emerging global trends in environmental attitudes. The environment’s future champions may be the far from ‘post-material’ citizens of those developing nations most at risk of real material harm from climate change and environmental degradation.
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