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close this book The Courier N°137 January-February 1993 Dossier: Development and Cooperation - Country Reports Mauritania
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View the document 1 January 1993 - Europe without frontiers
View the document Eurobarometer charts latest trends in public opinion
View the document Poll highlights environmental concerns

Poll highlights environmental concerns

In the spring of 1992, Eurobarometer also carried out an opinion poll which was designed to provide a better understanding of the way Europeans perceive environmental problems. The poll, which was requested by the Environment Directorate-General of the Commission, continues a series of such surveys which have been conducted at regular intervals since 1982. Representative samples of citizens in all twelve Member States were questioned and we present here some of the more significant findings.

In response to the basic question about concern for the environment, 85% of respondents agreed with the proposition that 'protecting the environment and fighting pollution' is 'en immediate and urgent problem'. This represents an 11% increase since the question was posed in the 1988 survey. Of the remainder, 11% believed that it was 'more a problem for the future' while only 2% said that it is 'not really a problem'.

Concern was at its highest in Greece, where 97% of interviewees regarded the issue as immediate and urgent. The lowest figure in support of this proposition was recorded in Ireland (70%).


National % of people who believe "protecting the environment and fighting pollution" is "an immediate and urgent problem" (figures for 1992)

 

The economy and the environment

Of course, in terms of future policymaking, the guidance provided by the answer to a single, focused question on the environment is of limited usefulness. The political potency of environmental fears can only be measured by reference to public attitudes in other policy spheres which have a direct ecological impact. It is economic development which, in Europe and elsewhere, underpins the standard of living of the population and it is, therefore, appropriate to test respondents' views about the potential conflict between such development and the protection of the environment. The way in which this was tackled in the poll was by presenting interviewees with three statements and asking them to say which came closest to their own views.

These were:

- economic development should come before the environment;

- economic development must be ensured but the environment must be protected at the same time;

- the environment should come before the economy.

It is not entirely surprising to discover that the bulk of those questioned (69%) opted for the second statement. 22% put the environment first while 4% gave priority to the economy.

One could, however, argue that the second statement provided an 'easy option' for respondents which might not always be available in the real world. While it is doubtless true that some economic development has a neutral or even a beneficial effect on the environment, the two policy objectives will sometimes be irreconcilable. For a policy maker contemplating the construction of a new airport, the knowledge that 69% of the people affected support economic development and environmental protection provides little assistance if, in the final analysis, the project both enhances economic activity and increases air and noise pollution. It would have been interesting to know how Europeans feel 'when it comes to the crunch' and a real choice between economic development and environmental protection must be made.

In terms of economic sectors, the environmental impact of industry and energy weighed most heavily in the minds of respondents. The sector which prompted the least conœrn was tourism.

 

Information

When asked which single source of information they thought to be most reliable on the state of the environment. the interviewees gave a thumbs-up to the various 'green' pressure groups. No fewer than 36% of those questioned opted for 'environmental protection associations' Scientists came second with 19% while consumer associations scored a respectable 18%. These figures contrast sharply with those recorded for the media (5%) public authorities (2%), political parties (1%) and industry (1%).

 


Reliable information sources on the state of the environment (EC 12 % for 1992)


Scepticism about public bodies acting efficiently or not

efficiently at the...(EC 12 % for 1992)

The four last-mentioned sources also performed dismally when respondents were given the opportunity to identify ad reliable sources of information (as opposed to the single most reliable one). It would seem that only 23% of Europeans trust their newspapers and broadcasters, while a mere 12% have faith in the public authorities on this issue and political parties (6%) and industry (4%) clearly have a serious credibility problem. Environmental protection associations again top the chart (63%) followed by scientists (50%) and consumer associations (44%).

 

People's own contribution

Interviewees were also questioned about their own behaviour - what they had already done to protect the environment and what they might be prepared to do. Almost 90% said that they avoided dropping papers or other waste on the ground (which suggests a prodigious contrary effort by the other 10%, judging by the litter problems in some parts of Europe!). Between a half and two thirds said they saved energy in various ways, sorted out household waste for recycling, saved tap water and refrained from making too much noise. There was less willingness, however, to buy environmentally friendly products which might be more expensive.

Among 'things one would be prepared to do' to protect the environment, fitting one's car with equipment to limit pollution came top. Interviewees were not given the opportunity to say whether they would be prepared to dispose of their ears altogether in the interests of cleaner air!

 

Scepticism

One of the most interesting findings of the poll was revealed in the responses to a question about the efficiency of various public bodies in implementing environmental policies. In general, those who thought that public bodies were 'not very' or 'not at all efficient' outnumbered those who thought they were 'very' or 'somewhat efficient' by roughly two to one. Although greater confidence was expressed in local or regional authorities than in worldwide bodies, the figures make depressing reading for decision-makers at all levels. The positive rating of the European Community (27%) was not particularly impressive but it did manage to achieve the lowest negative rating (51%).

Overall, the Eurobarometer poll provides an interesting insight into the environmental concerns of European Community citizens. People clearly lack confidence in the ability of public authorities to tackle environmental problems and this is something which politicians and administrators will need to address. Europeans are also anxious about the future and they seem ready to take some action to alleviate the ecological damage of their own, highly consumer-oriented lifestyles. What is not known is the depth of this commitment in the face of new environmental imperatives which could require more radical (and uncomfortable) changes. A far more probing series of questions would need to be devised for this to be ascertained.

Simon HORNER