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OSU Professor Speaks at Stanford about Environmental Issues

by Abby Wambaugh

An OSU sociologist whose studies challenge long-held beliefs about environmental awareness among people in developing nations versus wealthy nations recently spoke at Stanford University.
Professor Riley Dunlap was invited to lecture at Stanford’s Center for Environmental Sciences and Policy. His presentation was based on a comparison of several international surveys of citizens’ attitudes toward environmental issues.

Dunlap directed a 1992 Gallup International Institute poll of 24 nations, the “Health of the Planet” survey that found little difference in citizens’ concern about the environment in poor and wealthy countries.   
Prior to the survey, social scientists and policy makers assumed that concerns about basic survival needs kept residents of developing nations from giving much attention to environmental affairs, according to Dunlap. The Gallup results were therefore viewed as surprising, and generated some controversy.
Dunlap’s presentation at Stanford involved a comparison of the Gallup survey findings to those from three more recent international surveys. Overall, the newer surveys produced results compatible to the Gallup survey because they found high levels of environmental concern in poor nations. Dunlap is in the process of publishing a paper that reports the results of his comparison.
The opportunity to speak at Stanford allowed Dunlap to meet with a number of influential people in the area of environmental science, including former Stanford President Donald Kennedy who currently edits Science magazine.
“Simply to exchange ideas with these different leaders in the environmental science field and to talk about future research and so forth was very exciting,” Dunlap said.
 Dunlap specializes in environmental sociology, social movements and survey research methods. In addition to his focus on the environmental views of different nations, he is interested in U.S. environmental politics. He believes 9/11 and the war in Iraq pushed environmental issues off the U.S. policy agenda.  
 “I’m curious to see how things go the further we get from 9/11 and the situation in Iraq, and if environmental issues will come back to a position of prominence,” said Dunlap. Because he serves as Gallup Scholar for the Environment and advises the Gallup organization on its annual “Earth Day” poll conducted each spring, Dunlap is in a good position to track Americans’ views on environmental issues.
Attracted by the graduate program in environmental sociology and recent growth of the sociology department, Dunlap came to OSU in January 2006 from Washington State University after a short period of teaching in Finland. He said most universities have only one or two faculty members in environmental sociology, but OSU now has five.  
“My colleagues and I have really tried to build a strong environmental sociology program,” Dunlap said.