A Ten-year Low-carbon Itch? Exploration on the Influence Factors of Urban Residents’ Environmental Behavior in China


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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Awarding Institution
Award date16 May 2019


With the acceleration of industrialization and urbanization, environmental problems in Mainland China are becoming increasingly serious. While the plague arising from industrial pollution and ecological destruction is still considerable, along with the expansion of consumerism and urban life style, the pollution in the community living space has become an important aspect of environmental issues. But for a long time, the governmental organizations, researchers and public opinion have paid less attention to pollution from daily life, ignoring the negative environmental effects by urban community residents, consciously or unconsciously. Therefore, it is helpful to understand the social causes and social influence of environmental problems and to promote the development of environmental sociology in the context of urban community.

Based on relevant previous literature, combining China’s social and political reality and the daily-life practices of urban residents, especially the important reference point of China’s national strategy of developing low-carbon cities in the 2008, a ten-year comparative analyzing model will be adopted. Specifically, the urban sample data of national survey of two separate years, namely Chinese General Social Survey (CGSS) in 2003 and 2013 respectively, is just applicable to this comparative framework. The key issues to be addressed include: the general conditions of environmental behavior and its influence factors. In particular, what are the characteristics of urban residents’ environmental behavior in China and what changes have taken place? What are the main influence factors of environmental behavior? How do they make a difference and relate to each other? What is the implementation mechanism of environmental behavior which consists of internal psychological cognition and external structural constraint?

The results of quantitative study show that environmental behavior of urban residents in China has not improved greatly with the advent of low-carbon epoch. Their participation remains at a lower level and is more focused on the practices of daily life, such as recycling and environmental information concern, which embodies features of weak participation, shallowness, ordinariness and simplicity. According to different areas of implementation, urban residents’ environmental behavior can be divided into two types: private sphere environmental behavior and public sphere environmental behavior. The implementation of private environmental behavior remains at a higher level. Both psychological factors and social structural factors directly affect the two types of environment behavior, but there are some differences between the two behavioral types in terms of impact scale and intrinsic mechanism.

Urban residents’ environmental behavior is also influenced by institutional factors in the community. Therefore, this study advances to a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods to analyze a typical case of low-carbon model community in the city of Qingdao. The quantitative results are consistent with the conclusions from the national survey. Through interviews and participatory observation, the local regime of community cooperative governance, under the sway of grassroots party branches, is explored for its featuring dynamics that affect community residents’ low-carbon initiatives to a large extent.

Finally, based on these research outcomes, this thesis makes further discussion on how to cultivate and galvanize urban residents’ environmental participation, and how to facilitate the urban environmental study in China’s specific social and political context, also on academic contributions of this research as well as its deficiency. Specifically, this research innovates: 1. in the quantitative methods, the combination of psychologically cognitive factors and socially structural factors helps to construct the relevant influence factor models. The models are further examined by statistical approaches which mainly consist of the structural equation model, from which the intrinsic mechanisms of urban residents’ environmental behavior can be manifested, both in the private and public sphere. 2. For laying the foundation for further improvement of related empirical research, scales surveying environmental cognition, environmental protection knowledge and environmental value have been tested, among others. 3. Through qualitative methods, the institutional influence factors of environmental community participation are viable to identify, which to some extent fills the gap in relevant literatures which have long been dominated by the quantitative tradition and resulted in a disproportionate lack of attention on dynamics of institutional processes. Thus, it provides a possibility for the integration of quantitative and quantitative perspectives in this field. Admittedly, there are some deficiencies in this study. For example, the scope of behavioral scales is limited by the structure of questionnaire survey which cannot include more extensive aspects of environmental behavior; the definition of environmental behavior in the public domain needs to be extended, especially embedded in China’s political contexts, which might refer to those environmentally sensitive mass incidents; the qualitative investigation into institutional factors, due to time constraint, should have better responded to the heterotopiccontroversy which arises from the dimensional conflation of environmentalism and urban space.