Thursday, 28 July 2016

Catalyzing changes in attitudes and behaviour towards environmental issues

There is an increasing evidence that the existing public policies and consumption behaviour is leading to global warming , climate change,air pollution , water pollution  and other  adverse effects. Despite this , march towards  unsustainable development continues unabated .
What should be done?If we aim to win the battle for sustainable development  , we have no choice but to change the attitudes and behaviour of millions of people towards environment .Although environmental problems are of global concern , the public attitudes towards ways of dealing with them  is different for different nations.
          Two studies conducted in this  regard, one  called Climate Change in Indian mind , conducted in 2011  by Yale Project on Climate change ,and the other conducted in 2014, called: “ Attitudes Towards Environmental Issues:Empirical Evidence in Europe and the United States”by  Darina Peycheva, Jana P√∂tzschke, Theron Delano Hall and Hans Rattinger.. The  study  on India was   conducted in November and December  2011 by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication  in collaboration with Globescan ,with Principal  Investigators Anthony Leiserowitz, Ph.D. ,Yale university and Jagdish Thaker ,Ph.D.   George Mason University.  A  research team from Yale University, Globescan Incorporated and C-Voter conducted a national survey of  4,031 Indian adults ,using a combined urban and rural sample .Overall , the survey cum study   gave , among others , the following important findings  regarding attitudes of Indian public :
Global warming awareness and beliefs:
1.Only 7% of respondents said  they knew a lot about global warming , while 41% had either  never heard of it  , or said “I don’t know”.
2.When given a short definition of global warming , however , 72% said  that they believe it is happening .
3. 56% said it is   caused mostly by human activities , while 31% said it is  caused mostly by natural changes in the environment.
4. 61% said they are worried by global warming   and 67% said   the issue is important to them personally.
5. Large majorities said global warming   will harm future generations (67%), plant and animal species (67%), people in India (66%), people in their own community (62%) and themselves and their own family(57%).
6. 50% said that they have   already personally experienced   the effects of global warming , while 43% said  that global warming is already harming  or will harm people in India  within the next ten years.
The above findings indicate the need to make Indian public  more aware about global warming , its causes, harmful effects.Support for climate and energy policies:
1.41% of respondents said   the Government of India should be   doing more to address global warming.
2.54% said that India should be   making a large or moderate-scale effort to reduce global warming even if   it has large or moderate economic costs.
3. 38% said that India should reduce   its own emissions of the gases that cause global warming immediately  , without waiting for other countries, 18% said that India should reduce its own emissions only if rich countries go first, 13% said that  India should reduce its own emissions only if all other countries of the world  reduce their emissions at the same time , and 13% said that India should not reduce its emissions under any circumstances.
4.70% favoured a national programme   to teach Indians about global warming.
5.675 favoured a national effort   to help local communities   build check dams to increase local water supplies;
6. A majority of respondents favoured a variety of policies to waste   less fuel , water and energy even if increased costs;
7. A majority of respondents said that   environmental   protection either improves economic growth   and provides new jobs (35%) or has no effect on economic growth or jobs(16%).
8.53% said that protecting   the environment is more important , even if it reduces economic growth, while 28% said that  economic growth is more important, even if it leads to environmental problems.
The above findings indicate that Indian Public expects a lot more to be done by Government of India  for making policies to address global warming and other environmental issues.It should make policies to protect environment even if these reduce economic growth. 
Trust in different messengers:
1. Scientists were the most trusted sources of information about global warming (73%) , followed by news media (69%), environmental organisations (68%) ,and their  own family and friends (67%).
2. Government and religious leaders were trusted  by about half the respondents.
This indicates increasing role of scientists, media, NGO’s and governments in dealing with environmental issues, in Indian context.
The other study  related to attitudes towards environment in Europe and  the United States by Darina Peycheva and others  came out with more specific findings as below:
 1.Which environmental issues are of the  greatest concern at local level, the study  shows  that the issues are different in different countries.However , if we try to point out the   main environmental concern in the world , it will be pollution of rivers , lakes and oceans –equally high number of Americans (94%), Europeans(95%) and Turkish people (98%) identified these as very serious or somewhat serious.
 2.Attitudes of Elites  vs. Attitudes of general public:
      Elites have a different perspective on the importance of environmental issues than their respective public. Only 10% of  the surveyed American  elites  define climate change  as the biggest challenge to transatlantic community.
  3.General attitudes   towards environmental issues.:
 The number of those willing to cut their standard of living or to pay higher prices   or taxes in order to protect the environment  is extremely limited.47% Americans are more likely to pay  much higher prices to protect  the environment that Europeans (27%).Further 70% Americans favour paying  15 dollars per month per household in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions
The Role of main stakeholders  in the area of environmental issues:
4.There is a strong consensus that government should pass laws to make ordinary people   protect the environment.For Europeans , it is mainly the national government that should be held responsible for fighting  climate change.Americans   and Europeans tend to agree that   climate change can only be addressed effectively   at the international level.78% of European citizens  and 53% Americans  share this view.
5. Policies and instruments applied in the area of environmental issues:
Almost 90% of Europeans agree   that the EU should urgently put   new policies in place  to reduce  greenhouse gas emission by at least 20% by 2020.
  Increasing   energy efficiency in EU by 20% by 2020 is supported by almost 60%  of Europeans. Increasing the share of renewable energy  in the EU by 20% by 2020 is supported by 56% 0f Europeans.60% of Europeans tend to support the statement that the share of nuclear energy  should be reduced as it poses  safety problems like nuclear waste , or the danger of accidents. The Europeans point out that   small businesses and households should   receive financial support to make   their energy consumption more efficient.
     It is important that we in India  get more such  surveys and research conducted by universities of repute and share the results with policy makers , media , NGOs, , educational institutions and common citizens  so that better support for meeting the challenges posed by  environmental issues is created in the state and in the country.
(This article was published in the magazine Tree Take , Lucknow  in its July 15,2016 issue.)