In this research report, which is based upon ‘Biodiversity and ecosystem loss,’ I shall consider ‘attitudes’ to mean a set of views on something and ‘environmental degradation’ to mean any biophysical environmental disintegration via resource exhaustion, be it plastic waste, biodiversity loss, or simply air pollution.
Such an enquiry question is important as the issues regarding the environment have never been so timely. Even headlines of late express worry for the future when such concerns as severe pollution and habitat destruction are plaguing humankind. Yet, some people are not concerned. Thus, it is important to note that when it comes to the environment, standpoints are wide-ranging. Nonetheless, our thriftless way of life, appropriation of land and natural forests, and abundant spewing of pollutants into the atmosphere are reflections of how we value the environment. It is my intention to investigate the multitudinous reasons behind the varying attitudes towards the environment degradation and ecosystem loss.
According to a study by the Economic and Social Research Council at the University of Essex, people who were educated hold pro-environmental attitudes towards environmental degradation. The study proposed that education has a tremendous effect on people’s volition to adopt green conduct: 22,000 individuals who have degrees are 25% more likely to opt for such eco-friendly antics as recycling or green consumption. With education, schools can address, peddle and legitimise pressing environmental concerns. When pupils become globally conscious, there tends to be a better grasp of how simple actions can cripple the environment. In fact, since the UK is the fifth most educated country across the globe, it scored 79.89 on EPI(Environmental Performance Index). The evidence thus concludes that because educated people have a better understanding and awareness of the environment, they have a tendency to adopt pro-environmental attitudes towards swelling environmental concerns.
The cultural values of a community could govern one’s view on the environment. A study by Yeonshin Kim and Sejung Marina Choi in 2005 investigates how collectivistic and individualistic orientations— the former means the goals of a collective whole are more important while the latter means personal goals are prioritised—affect environmental attitudes of Sri Lankan consumers.The study concludes that collectivism is highly correlated with pro-environmental attitudes due to their emphasis on group harmony and cooperation. This trend can be seen in South Korea. In face of ecosystem endangerment, being collectivistic, South Korea’s government has found itself amongst the world leaders of clean technology patents, as per the United Nations Climate Change Conference. However, another study conducted by Kimin Eom wherein there were respondents from the USA(individualistic culture) and Japan(collectivistic culture) suggests that both cultural orientations promote pro-environmental attitudes, the only difference being their motives. The findings intimate that in individualistic cultures, personal worries regarding the environment tend to drive people to take iniatives, whereas in collectivistic cultures, the drive behind green behaviour lies in a conformity of social norms. Overall, the evidence suggests that cultural values, primarily collectivistic and individualistic cultures, can determine our attitudes towards the current environment plight.
Research has also proven that although religions differ in teachings and creeds, the vast majority of pious individuals hold positive attitudes towards environmental concerns. As per Rabbi Lawrence Troster, the “Jewish concept of Tzedek demands that we create a worldwide economy that is sustainable and that is equitable in the distribution of wealth and resources.” The central creed of Judaism is that Man should maintain the state of the Earth as he received it from God. Their environmental advocacy is thus in the interests of posterity. Furthermore, quoting verbatim, Leviticus 25:23 states: “The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you are but aliens and my tenants.” From this, it is apparent that the Christian doctrine emphasises stewardship and not ownership; their view is one of advocacy for policies and practices that are beneficial to the environment. However, a study in UK also shows attitudes vary, for a belief in the afterlife reduces one’s attitude of risk-urgency and fosters disengagement with current environmental concerns. All things considered, the evidence at hand thus suggests that religion has an overall positive effect on how we perceive the environment.
As per a study conducted by the University of Adelaide, more than 70% of China’s lakes and rivers are contaminated; alongside this is the added concern of 10,375 million metric tons of carbon emissions per year.
The basis for China’s passivity is simple: the economy has taken priority, rather than the environment. In order to cater to the needs of its populace and communist agenda in 1978, China has adhered to stringent economic reforms, intent on privatising its economy from stagnation. Since the outset thereof in 1978 to 2016, the country’s GDP per capita rose from $153 to $8,123. As per a Live Planet report in 2015, such impressive growth accounts for one-sixth of the global ecological footprint by virtue of its breakneck industrialisation and “airpocalypse”(Liu). From this, it is clear that the government has placed significant emphasis on its industrialisation regime, instead of focusing on potential improvements for the environment; the economy, for the most part, has taken the foreground.
This economy-driven attitude towards the environment can be seen in China’s imposition of environmental protocol. The laws per se are strict, but the de facto enforcement is lazy. In 2016, a crackdown on polluters conducted by the central government inspection teams held more than 3,000 local government officials liable for slack environmental protection efforts; because local governments dictate expenditure and staffing of the bureaus, the national government given meagre authority, there exists a prevailing incentive to ignore violations in the interests of the economy. Thus, the evidence suggests that local officials do not deem environmental degradation to be a prime concern, especially since the economy needs boosting. In fact, in 2016 China’s GDP per capita was only 80% of the world average and one-seventh of the US figure. This worry that China’s economic growth might lag behind other countries further nurtured political views that the environment should take second place.
Back in 2011, 57% of Chinese adults came to the consensus that the environment should take priority in a Gallup survey. This view lies in the fact that severe air pollution and ecosystem loss fostered by breakneck industrialisation had disrupted the day-to-day life of Chinese citizens. China’s crippling environmental plight, coupled with public criticism, finally led to reorientation towards a more sustainable trajectory. “We should make our world clean and beautiful by pursuing green and low-carbon development,” says Xi Jingping during his Geneva speech. From this, it is clear that Xi also thinks the situation is at crisis point and that sustainable measures should be undertaken en route to economic growth. This is buoyed by headlines of late showing China’s pro-environmental agenda—they have planned to expend $360 billion within three years on its aims to get 20% of its energy from renewable sources.
I believe that my upbringing had a significant impact on how I view the environment. My parents are staunch believers that the environment should be protected at all costs; they deem environmental degradation and ecosystem loss to be matters of prime concern and had always championed green behaviour, from recycling to composting. Inevitably, I had in me a sentiment that the environment should be preserved, maintained and protected to boot. From this, it is apparent that parental values can have an influence over our ideas and opinions on the current environmental plight.
On some level, I believe that my education has somewhat an effect on my views on such issues to boot. Within the school milieu, we as students learn about how the environment functions. Because everything is interlinked, a seemingly trivial action, such as littering, might prompt vast environmental ruination. Other courses that are woven into our curriculum also go hand in hand with some of the stated environmental issues. Biology, for example, apprises us of the upshots of ecosystem loss, which include the disruption of food webs and probable animal extinction. All this entrenches in us a prevailing belief that the environment is important in sustaining life and raises awareness.
If attitudes remain apathetic and defeatist, the effects of environmental degradation and ecosystem loss can potentially heighten. Ecosystem loss is inextricably linked with biodiversity loss; we cannot have one without the other. With the population forecast to burgeon to 9.3 billion people in 2050, this points to a faster rate at which resources are depleted, which would likely mean vast natural habitat destruction due to acts such as deforestation. In turn will disrupt food webs and potentially wrought about extensive animal extinction, whereupon humankind is likely to be threatened by famine as countries are embroiled in the universal struggle of meeting high food demands; such effects will impinge on developing countries such as India and Nigeria the most. Furthermore, millions of people will face a future wherein food supplies are prone to pests and disease and potable water becomes a rarity.
Courses of action
Globally, countries like Australia and Brazil should endorse the safeguarding of key habitats via legislation. Such methods include establishing ecological nature reserves, parks, and conservation covenants. Afforestation campaigns can also be launched to mobilise the mass. Governments should also weave in mandatory environmental education courses for schools.
Nationally, China could implement stricter environment laws, with any breach of protocol treated as punishable offences—prison sentences or exorbitant fines; through advertising campaigns and documentaries, the national government could spread awareness apropos of environmental degradation. Embargoes can be imposed on production on certain days of the week while taxes can be levied on vehicles in order to discourage consumption thereof.
Personally, one should spread awareness of current environmental concerns via engaging with different communities on social media by creating accounts for Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and such, distributing informational pamphlets to spread awareness, always opting for green transport, and recycling plastic bags and containers.
Throughout this report, I have explored the varying reasons behind different attitudes towards environmental degradation and ecosystem via religious, social, cultural, economic and political slants. Globally, cultural values, such as collectivistic and individualistic orientations, education, and religion all have an overall positive influence on the views directed towards environmental concerns. Nationally, China’s slack efforts in environmental protection stems from a view that because the economy needs some brushing up, the environment should not take priority. In recent years, however, the Chinese government had a change in heart—more sustainable measures have been undertaken in the quest for further economic growth. Personally, I feel different environmental attitudes are also rooted in one’s upbringing and parental values.
Before surfing the web for relevant research and studies, I came up with only one explanation for the variation in attitudes regarding current environmental concerns—education. I deemed it to be the most important and straightforward. Never did I think that such influences as religion, upbringing, and the economy would affect our views on the environment. After some contemplation on the different perspectives clouding around these pressing concerns, I was surprised, for I never knew so many factors can exert an influence over one’s view of the environment; the fact that there exists cultural orientations such as collectivism and individualism also did not occur to me, let alone their impact on environmental attitudes. After much thorough research, although my stance on environmental concerns remains unshaken—that is, I still believe such issues should be dealt with seriously and that people should be intent on protecting the environment—my opinion of what the most important factor at play has changed: as of now, I think the economy is the primary driver for the differences in attitudes, for it accounts for many of the passivity in attitudes across the globe. Ergo, after such a task, I feel somewhat enlightened and aware of other standpoints apropos of environmental degradation and ecosystem loss.