When we think about environmentalism in the U.S., we assume most people fall into one of two polarized groups: the tree huggers or the coal huggers. But it turns out the spectrum of environmentalism is much broader than conventional wisdom would have us believe.
In reality, there could be up to nine distinct types of Americans, each with unique environmental understandings, perspectives and behaviors, according to a 2015 study by the Associated Press and The Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.
Using a national online survey of 1,576 American adults, researchers measured the attitudes of respondents by examining their opinions on various issues of environmentalism, including - but not limited to - the state of the environment, government regulations and individual experiences of nature. Researchers then categorized respondents into nine distinct groups, ranging from "Liberal Greens" to "Conservative Browns."
More often than not, we tend to think opinions on environmental issues are binary. In other words, you are either for the environment or against it. But the results of this study reveal the majority of Americans hold complex and nuanced perspectives on the environment.
Below is a brief summary of each distinct group.
Liberal Greens (9 percent)
These are your classic environmentalists, and every conservative's nightmare. The vast majority of Liberal Greens report being extremely or very worried about the current condition of the natural world (91 percent). Not only do they acknowledge the existence of environmental crises, 96 percent of them believe "it is humankind's responsibility to protect and care for the Earth, and its natural resources."
Unsurprisingly, Liberal Greens believe the government should be doing everything it can to protect the environment, even if it means property owners lose some control (92 percent). They largely agree that, in the long run, environmental regulations are more important than economic growth (89 percent). Plus, they are firm advocates of cutting fossil-fuel production in the U.S. to protect the environment.
While very few Liberal Greens are religious (17 percent), less than half of them say "when scientific explanations conflict with my religious or spiritual beliefs, I always accept the scientific explanations." While this is certainly discouraging for scientists, it remains the highest of any segment.
Outdoor Greens (10 percent)
These are the folks who feel the most interconnected with nature. They frequently find themselves out and about in the natural world, fishing, hunting or gardening. Similar to Liberal Greens, Outdoor Greens are extremely or very worried about the current condition of the natural world (84 percent). The vast majority of Outdoor Greens believe it is humankind's responsibility to protect our planet and its ecosystems (91 percent).
When it comes to government intervention, however, they are a little more conservative. While the majority agree that, in the long run, environmental protections are more important than economic growth (77 percent), less than half are convinced the U.S. should cut their production of fossil fuels to protect the environment (48 percent).
Religious Greens (14 percent)
Religious Greens don't spend as much time in nature, but they still place great importance on protecting the environment. Most Religious Greens agree humans are the primary cause of environmental changes (88 percent), and they believe - often for religious reasons - it is humanity's responsibility to protect and care for the planet and its ecosystems (95 percent). Despite this, less than a third of Religious Greens believe the U.S. should cut its production of fossil-fuels (31 percent).
Unsurprisingly, when it comes to environmentalism, the majority of Religious Greens trust religious beliefs (58 percent) over scientific explanations (2 percent).
Middle-of-the-Roaders (10 percent)
Middle-of-the-Roaders are all over the map. Sometimes they lean green and other times they lean brown. While Middle-of-the-Roaders are generally concerned about the environment (38 percent are extremely or very worried, which is about the national average), they tend to like things the way they are. Of course, that means less government intervention.
While the majority think humans have a responsibility to protect the environment (83 percent), only a small number believe the U.S. should reduce their production of fossil fuels to protect the environment (11 percent). In fact, 61 percent say "we should increase the production of fossil fuels in the U.S. to reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy."
Most Middle-of-the-Roaders trust scientific beliefs (34 percent) over religious explanations (18 percent). They tend to pin their hopes on science and technology to provide future solutions to environmental challenges.
Homebodies (20 percent)
Homebodies like the indoors, and they are reluctant to call themselves environmentalists. In fact, they tend to be apathetic about environmental issues in general. For instance, very few Homebodies are worried about the state of the natural environment (19 percent are extremely or very worried), and only 46 percent are convinced that "human activities are currently the primary cause of changes in the natural environment."
A majority of Homebodies believe it is the responsibility of humans to protect the environment (61 percent), but only 24 percent say that "we should decrease production of fossil fuels in the U.S. in order to protect the environment."
Politically, Homebodies lie somewhere in the middle, with 44 percent identifying as political moderates. And, while over half of Homebodies consider themselves religious, only 25 percent say they trust religious beliefs over scientific beliefs.
Disengaged (6 percent)
Environmental issues do not resonate with this group, and they offer very few opinions.
Outdoor Browns (15 percent)
Like Outdoor Greens, Outdoor Browns feel interconnected with nature, and they like to spend their time in the natural world. Unlike Outdoor Greens, however, they do not consider themselves environmentalists. In fact, only 17 percent say they are interested in environmental issues.
Outdoor Browns rank higher than Homebodies but lower than the national average in their concern for the natural environment (30 percent extremely or very worried), although they tend to agree humans have a responsibility to protect the environment (72 percent).
By and large, Outdoor Browns do not want government intervention on environmental issues. Only 21 percent say "we should decrease production of fossil fuels in the U.S. in order to protect the environment," while 40 percent instead say "we should increase production of fossil fuels in the U.S. to reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy."
Religious Browns (8 percent)
Religious Browns are - shocker! - highly religious, and a large majority are Republican (72 percent). Religious Browns feel the most separated from nature than any other group, and they express strongly anti-environmental views. Religious Browns are convinced "the so-called 'environmental crisis' has been exaggerated" (70 percent), and only 5 percent are extremely or very worried about the state of our planet.
While the majority of Religious Browns believe humans have a responsibility to protect and care for the Earth, they do not think government regulation is the answer. For instance, a majority think "property owners, and not the government, should control what happens on their own land, even if it harms the natural environment." Additionally, 70 percent of Religious Browns think the U.S. should increase its production of fossil fuels.
Predictably, Religious Browns tend to trust religious beliefs (57 percent) more than scientific explanations (4 percent).
Conservative Browns (8 percent)
Like Religious Browns, Conservative Browns hold strongly anti-environmental views. The vast majority (90 percent) are unconcerned about the environmental state of the planet and believe "the so-called 'environmental crisis' has been exaggerated."
Conservative Browns are the only group with a majority that believe it is the right of humankind to "use the Earth and its resources for our benefit" (54 percent). Furthermore, a huge majority are convinced the environmental changes we see today are primarly caused by natural events, and not by human influence (94 percent).
It isn't hard to guess where Conservative Browns stand on issues of government regulation. In the long run, this group feels economic growth is more important than environmental protections, and they think the U.S. should increase its production of fossil fuels (88 percent).
Conservative Browns are highly religious (71 percent), and the majority trust religious beliefs over scientific explanations (60 percent).
These are brief summaries of each group. If you want more information, you can read the entire report here.