Article

Temporal Pessimism and Spatial Optimism in Environmental Assessments: An 18-Nation Study

The personal assessments of the current and expected future state of the environment by 3130 community respondents in 18 nations were investigated at the local, national, and global spatial levels. These assessments were compared to a ranking of each country's environmental quality by an expert panel. Temporal pessimism (“things will get worse”) was found in the assessments at all three spatial levels. Spatial optimism bias (“things are better here than there”) was found in the assessments of current environmental conditions in 15 of 18 countries, but not in the assessments of the future. All countries except one exhibited temporal pessimism, but significant differences between them were common. Evaluations of current environmental conditions also differed by country. Citizens’ assessments of current conditions, and the degree of comparative optimism, were strongly correlated with the expert panel’s assessments of national environmental quality. Aside from the value of understanding global trends in environmental assessments, the results have important implications for environmental policy and risk management strategies.

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