This paper examines:
• the relationship between environmental action and knowledge of the environment;
• political, social and economic factors influencing the ability of individuals and societies to act in an environmentally responsible manner;
• the possible motivations and contexts for encouraging greater responsibility toward the environment in various communities.
The annual National Environmental Education and Training Foundation (NEETF) Survey reveals that many US residents subscribe to environmental myths which may interfere with their efforts to act or agitate for environmental responsibility. Conventional wisdom might suggest that people in developing nations such as China would have a lower environmental awareness. In fact, when Shanghai residents were recently asked comparable questions to those in the NEETF Survey (part of an Asian Development Bank project), they often outperformed their American counterparts in their knowledge of environmental issues and in willingness to participate in activities such as recycling. - However in countries like China, changes are also required at an institutional level to make serious inroads into the problem of environmental degradation. In these circumstances, public awareness is a powerful tool only if the public has the power to drive institutional change. In many countries political influence constrains implementation of environmental projects with insufficient short-term political accolades. Similarly there are short-term economic and social goals that can dominate over the environment in the decision making process for both communities and individuals. This paper draws on USA, Australia and China survey data and the international experience of its authors in public awareness campaigns. The paper will discuss how environmental communicators can possibly change environmental attitudes and behaviour by understanding the contexts and the motivations for this change.