Environmental awareness

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The environmental awareness is the insight of a man in the fact that people's natural environment - through their actions and omissions or by interfering with the - and thus the livelihood of the people environmental damage or its natural balance at risk.

Environmental awareness is made up of environmental knowledge, environmental attitudes, behavioral intentions with regard to the environment and a person's actual environmental behavior.

Chronology of the emergence of environmental awareness in the population

We can speak of a spread of environmental awareness from the 1960s. Were influential

Environmental awareness has been further enhanced by the first time in 1983 so called dying forests , the Atom - the Chernobyl disaster of 1986 and other events, such as the " Rhein-GAU " in the same year, in which about 30 tons of harmful chemicals from the Basel chemical company Sandoz ( today Novartis ) flowed into the already heavily deserted Rhine . The first half of the 1980s is often seen as the “high point” of the environmental movement and of particularly strong environmental awareness. The founding of the party Die Grünen (today: Bündnis 90 / Die Grünen ) in 1980 as well as well-known environmental protection groups such as Greenpeace (German section from 1980) or Robin Wood (1982) also fell into this phase .

The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), also known as the “Earth Summit”, took place in Rio de Janeiro from June 3 to 14, 1992 . In the Agenda 21 adopted there, the signatory states emphasized that there could be no solution to the globally significant environmental problem without environmental awareness .

The frequent theming of the environmental problem to this day - also in the media - also influenced the increasing awareness of the people. People's level of information about the environment, nature, risks, etc. improved (environmental knowledge) and the values ​​and basic attitudes related to the environment were also sensitized (environmental attitudes). Many people therefore developed an increasing willingness to act and positive behavioral intentions with regard to environmental protection and stated that they were rethinking their environmental behavior.

Environmental awareness and behavior

Although large parts of all sections of the population have demonstrably developed environmental awareness in Germany, for example, the everyday behavior of people - as studies show - often cannot be explained by the level of information, values ​​and behavioral intentions. So there is a gap between some people's attitudes and their actual behavior.

Only in so-called "low-cost situations", i.e. in situations in which the implementation of environmentally friendly behavioral alternatives is associated with relatively low (additional) costs, does existing environmental awareness regularly lead to environmentally friendly behavior. The term cost (as a counterpart to the term benefit ) should be understood here (in the sense of economic behavior theory, cf. Homo oeconomicus ) as any expenditure, be it physical, temporal, monetary or of any other kind. However, this does not explain all behaviors. Some further reasons against choosing the more environmentally friendly alternative, contrary to environmental awareness, can be the fitting to the individual lifestyle, comfort, routinization of the conventional alternative or other personal interests.

Against this background, one has strategically moved away from the individual- political approach in environmental policy , which aims to promote environmental awareness and convince people to behave more environmentally friendly, and instead prefers economic instruments (e.g. eco-taxes or emission certificates ), the advantage of which is that they reward environmentally friendly behavior with the help of economic incentive structures .

Environmental awareness over time

The Federal Environment Agency (UBA) has been conducting surveys every two years since 1996 in order to quantify the change in environmental awareness in Germany's population over the age of 14. From 2014, over 2000 people were surveyed using the same survey method.

Assessment of the environmental quality on site, in Germany and worldwide in a time comparison

The report from 2019 shows marked changes in environmental awareness in 2018 compared to 2016. During 2016, "war / terrorism" and "migration / immigration" were the most important topics (described as "very important" by over 60% of those surveyed) , In 2018, the "state of the education system", "social justice" and "environmental and climate protection" were named by over 60% of those surveyed as "very important" and thus named as the three most important issues. “Environmental and climate protection” had moved up from 6th place (with 53%) to 3rd place (64%) within these two years. While the environmental quality of Germany in the 9 surveys between 2000 and 2016 was rated by 64 to 82% of the respondents as “very good” or “quite good”, this proportion fell to 60% in 2018. The drop in the assessment of global environmental quality is even greater, from comparatively low values ​​of 16 to 21% (exception: 9% in 2006) to 7 and 8% from 2014 onwards. The causes for the change in awareness may be diverse. In the UBA's 2018 environmental awareness study, UBA President Maria Krautzberger explains : “More and more people are realizing that the environment is not doing well in many areas - now also in their immediate environment. The extremely dry summer of 2018 made the consequences of global climate change tangible in Germany too. "

Assessment of the commitment of various actors for environmental and nature protection in a time comparison

Only a declining minority (2008: 17%, 2018: 8%) attest that the industry is doing (rather) enough for environmental and climate protection, while a large majority of 70 to 80% of those surveyed support the commitment of environmental associations judged positively. Satisfaction with the Federal Government of Germany was above 33% up to 2016 and fell to 14% in 2018. In the environmental awareness study 2018 it was summarized: “Across all listed actors - apart from the environmental associations - only one to three percent of the respondents gave a clearly positive assessment of the commitment (“ does enough ”). The respondents also do not exempt their fellow citizens (and possibly themselves) from this extremely critical view The most important players in the energy transition, while the federal and state governments of over 70% of the respondents and industrial companies as well as each and every individual with over 40% are among the three actors who are judged to be decisive for the success of the energy transition.

Environmental awareness in different population groups

Society is also heterogeneous in terms of values. In the 2018 environmental awareness study, 8 different social milieus are examined with regard to the social situation of people (education, income, professional status) and correlated with their value orientation towards environmental and climate protection. Among other things, it is found that the established milieus and the young pragmatists rate the efforts of cities and municipalities, the federal government and industry significantly more positively than the average of the respondents. In contrast, critically creative and young idealists judge all actors with the exception of environmental associations significantly more critically than the average. People who are assigned to the precarious milieu rate the behavior of citizens with regard to environmental and climate protection as positive above average. The quality of the environment is judged worse by people in the critical-creative milieu and by young idealists. Almost none (only 1%) of these two milieus assess the global environmental quality as very or quite good, while people from the established milieus and the young pragmatists are mostly of the opinion that it is at least quite good.

Areas of tension shaped by the respective environmental knowledge, environmental awareness and environmental behavior do not only arise between the sociologically distinguishable population groups. They also arise between groups with different interests, for example in the concrete implementation of the energy transition: companies, politics, administration as well as protesting or inactive, but also affected populations or on site in the sense of the energy transition e.g. B. people involved in community energy cooperatives .

International perspective

Studies on global environmental change and future scenarios have been published since the middle of the 20th century . These triggered individual, also global initiatives and shaped environmental awareness worldwide in particularly ecologically and socially oriented population groups and also led to global political initiatives. UN climate conferences have been held regularly since 1979 . At the beginning of the 21st century, the planetary boundaries , in particular the extinction of species, increasingly became public awareness. Due to the increase in the frequency of extreme events, such as persistent periods of heat, drought and flooding, as well as pandemics (especially the COVID-19 pandemic ) with negative effects on personal well-being (health, nutrition, prosperity), which are experienced individually in almost all countries Global protest movements such as Fridays for Future and Extinction Rebellion developed and are developing . These gained greater media attention worldwide. It is to be expected that these worldwide movements will have an impact on the environmental awareness of broad sections of the population. There are first studies on this. Comprehensive studies on the international development of environmental awareness are not yet known. However, there are studies that focus on specific issues and have an international perspective.

On behalf of the World Economic Forum , almost 20,000 people from 28 countries were asked in autumn 2019 whether and what behavior they had changed in the interests of climate protection. Two thirds of the people surveyed said that they changed their behavior out of concern about climate change, while 23% said that they had not changed their behavior at all because of the climate. Changes in behavior in relation to domestic water and energy consumption, recycling and food choice were mentioned most frequently. Changes in behavior with regard to the type of mobility for business travel and motorized transport were named the least. The proportion of people with declared changes in behavior is highest in India (88%), Mexico (86%), Chile (86%), China (85%), Malaysia (85%) and Peru (84%). The proportion of respondents with reported behavioral changes for the climate is lowest in Japan (31%), Russia (52%), Saudi Arabia (55%) and the USA (56%). In Germany, 60% of the respondents stated that they had changed their behavior because of climate change, here most frequently in relation to buying groceries and the second and third most frequently in relation to energy consumption and recycling.

In April 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic , over 28,000 people from 14 countries were asked whether they would agree with the following statement: "In the long term, climate change is just as serious a crisis as the COVID-19 pandemic". Worldwide, 71% of respondents agreed with this statement. It is interesting that this statement was agreed especially in countries strongly affected by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus : China (87%), France (76%), Spain (73%), Italy (72%), Brazil (71%) ), Germany (69%) and in other countries (Australia, Great Britain, India, Canada, Mexico, Russia, USA).


Individual evidence

  1. a b c d Heike Williams, Rainer Benthin, Angelika Gellrich: Environmental awareness in Germany 2018 . Results of a representative population survey. Ed .: Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, Federal Environment Agency. Berlin May 2019 ( bmu.de [PDF; 2.3 MB ; accessed on April 26, 2020]).
  2. Christoph Hoeft, Sören Messinger-Zimmer, Julia Zilles: Citizen protests in times of the energy transition . A conclusion in nine theses. In: Christoph Hoeft, Sören Messinger-Zimmer, Julia Zilles (ed.): Citizens' protests in times of the energy transition . transcript, 2017, ISBN 978-3-8376-3815-8 , pp. 235-254 .
  3. ^ Ipsos : Climate Change and Consumer Behavior. (pfd; 607 kB) Global changes in consumer behavior in response to climate change. January 23, 2020, accessed May 1, 2020 .
  4. Robert Grimm: Climate change worries Germans just as much as the coronavirus. (pdf; 260 kB) Ipsos , April 23, 2020, accessed on May 4, 2020 .

See also

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