Environmental refugees share a similar fate with climate change – their existence is accepted by some whereas others negate their presence. Natural scientists commonly agree on the existence of man-triggered climate change, while there is no social consensus on the very same issue.
In the article ”Climate Science as Culture War“ Andrew J. Hoffman convincingly illustrated that natural sciences and social sciences need to cooperate in order to let people accept that climate change is happening and future adaptation strategies need to be developed/implemented: We have to find a consensus based solution for how to address climate change respectively how to adapt our life. People have to identify themselves with the solution, which might cause change of life style and/or their values, otherwise strategies will not be implemented permanently. Some of the nine applied techniques during the societal debate (according to Andrew J. Hoffmann, 2012) are, for instance:
- Considering cultural norms of a given social group
- Addressing different groups with the appropriate language
- Employing natural phenomena/disasters in the region as leverage of climate change
- Spreading a sense of responsibility for our environment
Especially while reading the last point, I wondered:
- Are countries, whose residents already have developed a consciousness for the environment, more proactive about the development of climate change adaptation strategies than others?
- How can one identify this consciousness?
- Is there a link between the consciousness of climate change and the acceptance of environmental refugees?
All in all: Is there a relationship between environmental awareness, adaptation strategies and the possible recognition of environmental refugees?
Let us have a look at the second question before I will evaluate question one and three:
What are the indicators of environmental awareness?
Recycling could be one of these indicators. Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany are the three countries in Europe with the highest percentages on re-using waste (see euractiv.de). However, the study does not distinguish between industrial and non-industrial waste. National statistics do differentiate between them. Moreover, Germany (for instance) also classifies the re-use of different waste categories. In Germany, 97% of plastic waste was reused in 2009, of which more than 50% were used for energy production (meaning: burned) and only 1% was reused as raw material (see bfr.bund.de).
The mentioned data does not say anything about the environmental awareness of people. It also depends on assessment of the actual knowledge on recycling. A study, commissioned by Eurobarometer in 2011, shows that Germans are most knowledgable when it comes to waste recycling.
Sainsbury’s (UK) wanted to encourage its customers to re-use old bags: Everyone who reuses bags for shopping gets additional points on the Nectar card.
I remember: During my childhood we regularly collected waste, such as paper, plastic and glass, brought it to the local collecting waste service and got money in return. As a result, our “earnings” financed our school festivals.
Those two examples point out that people have to benefit directly from their commitment. If they do not draw considerable advantages from their actions they will stop doing it after a while and environmental protection activities will not be implemented permanently. The economy can benefit from environmental activities not only with a better image (like Sainsbury’s) but can also create new jobs and save valuable (and often expensive) resources. The recycling of old cloths has led to the creation of jobs and to a considerable water saving. The production of new cotton would actually consume several hundred of liters of water (see ufh.at)
A second indicator could be the use of water resources and the availability/use of water treatment facilities. Sewage plants clean used water and return it to the natural waters. Cleaned water does not become drinking water immediately, but the cleaned water is returned to the natural water cycle and, therefore, could become drinking water again. Moreover, sewage sludge can be used for energy production (see klaerwerk-online.de).
Prospectively our water resources will become even more scarce than they already are if we do not use them effectively on the local level. Water management needs to be implemented between cultures and countries which share rivers, glaciars, lakes and seas in order to prevent conflicts (see comment from 19 August).
A third indicator could be the existence and success of Green topics and parties. Below I will take Japan and Germany as an example of a growing environmental consciousness. Thousands of people experienced the power of natural forces when the tsunami hit the Japanese coast in 2011. Since July 2012 the Green Party was re-established in Japan with already 1,000 members. The German Green Party was one of its role models (see Japan Daily Press, Das Handelsblatt). In Germany, the tsunami and the nuclear power plant accident in Japan generated a huge protest movement against nuclear energy and finally lead to a complete change of course in the German energy policy (see Das Handelsblatt). Nuclear reactors had been an important pillar of German energy policy before, Germany will now phase out from nuclear power within the next ten years (more information on Süddeutsche.de).
The three aforementioned indicators are only examples and are strongly influenced by other factors, such as age, education, experience, gender, cultural norms, motivation, emotions, and so on. The article ”Mind the Gap: Why do people act environmentally and what re the barriers to pro-environmental behavior?“ (2002) by Anja Kollmuss and Julian Agyeman shows the impact of different factors on the environmental behaviour of people. Furthermore, the perception of climate change as a risk to people’s lives can play a role in the implementation of adaptation strategies (O’Connor et al., 1999).
But does environmental awareness necessarily lead to behavioural changes? On the Fiji Islands adaptation strategies are already actively implemented by the tourist industry. However their real motivation is not environmental awareness but the reduction of costs (Becken, 2005).
A study by Anable et al. (2006) analysed the possible connection between people’s transport behaviour and climate change awareness. One of the conclusions was that there is only a weak link between them.
Prospectively, it needs to be researched whether the occurrence of factors like recycling, Green Parties and sewage plants actually lead to and strengthen environmental awareness and, as a result, support pro-active approaches towards climate change.
And there it is, the first question:
Are countries, whose residents already have developed a consciousness for the environment, more proactive about the development of climate change adaptation strategies than others?
In answering this question I do struggle more than expected. Many countries …
To be continued …