Pollution and Culture: Environmental Views of College Students in Two Cultures (China and America)

Pollution is not only a matter of nature-society argument, but also a matter of culture; pollution consists of shared ideas or values about environmental concerns, expressed informally in customs or formally in policy-making. Yet, the cultural variation of environmental values has not been received sufficient attention. Is there a difference between the two environmental cultures? How large is the difference? Can the differences be measured? How do the experiences of living in metropolitan cities impact on individuals’ environmental views?

In terms of the questions, the study proposes to follow both researchers’ interests in China and US comparing these two countries’ environmental views, focusing on the college students in two major metropolitan cities: Chongqing (China) and New York City (United States). The two cities, one in southwest China, the other in northeast US, are home to millions of people. While New York has been at the center of global flows of capital, goods, and information, Chongqing, traditionally an industrious city, just started a new chapter 20 years ago. The historical developments both on national and local scale of the two cities have deeply constructed their residents especially for the younger generation’s social recognition.

Although the sample of college students is not representative of the population, they are young and in the process of becoming well-educated in an era of globalization. They are also constantly being exposed to the global flow of information from media, perhaps more aware and concerned about local and global environmental issues than the general population in China and America. Since some students grow up in the city, while others just move to the city to attend university, so we will be able to collect a variety of views that students bring with them from surrounding regions. In this light, college students are an ideal sample population for this study.

The study will construct an online survey using Qualtrics, to be administered in English and in Chinese to a sample of students in Chongqing and in New York City. This can allow us to collect and manage large amounts of comparable data from individuals across different universities in both cities. The students in both cultures will be presented the same select number of environmental issues, such as global warming, pollution, environment policies, etc. It is to find out whether there are any significant correlations between variables. Furthermore, the survey answers contain both standardized quantitative as well as qualitative data, in order to observe the individuality between respondents’ perspectives across a representative range of social and cultural backgrounds, exploring the authentic voices of students from China or US and setting their voices into wider social contexts.

This research is one step towards knowing how social scientists observe and understand the world. During the process of constant revising the questionnaire designs, with Professor Pajo’s guidelines and supports, I start to train myself to think like scholars: what results am I expecting to gain? How does our hypothesis affect the questionnaire designs? Does that question fully represent the research’s interests? As the study gradually develops, I am able to adjust my approach and prepare for intellectual challenges.

Working out data collection and analysis has also been a major goal for me to participate in the project. Research so far allows me to grasp a more in depth foundation for quantitative data techniques; I have learnt to use Qualtrics and explored how it can benefit my future study. Meanwhile, since the questionnaire contains qualitative data, I will also expect to apply qualitative analysis that I have gained from my anthropology class into practice. As a result, the project can give the opportunity to prepare myself for the future academic study and research.