Poll: Environmental awareness up on 2005

By Yvette Varvaressou - Kathimerini English Edition

In just two-and-a-half years, the percentage of Greeks who declare they are «very concerned» about the environment has risen from 31 to 43 in a sample surveyed by the Hellenic Society for the Environment and Culture, the results of which were presented this week. The society's president, Costas Karras, said the results of the survey - the third carried out for the organization since 2001 - showed a very considerable change in public opinion on many issues related to the environment, particularly since the second survey in 2005. «It is clear that for most people, the environment is one of the most important issues of our time. Monitoring these changes gives politicians, environmental organizations and the media many valuable tools, as well as lessons to be learned,» he said at a press conference Wednesday after presenting the results to the parliamentary environment committee. The 12 percent increase, he added, came from the group who in 2005 said they were «not interested at all» in environmental issues. In presenting the details of the survey, carried out by Alternative Research Solutions, its CEO Titos Simitzis said the main conclusion to be drawn was the shift toward an awareness of personal responsibility. «We are more willing than ever to do something personally, but what is missing is the knowledge of how to go about it,» he said. «The gap between those who are simply concerned and those who are willing to do something will get smaller the more information and access they have to processes. No one will take material to another area to recycle it, but if there are bins on the corner of their own street, they will do it,» said Simitzis. The first question presented to the respondents asked them to choose from a list of various issues those that were most important to them - the two concerned with the environment topped the list, as they had in the previous survey. Open-ended questions as to which environmental issues were of greatest concern called for spontaneous answers. Atmospheric pollution still topped the list, although it was slightly down since 2005, but there is now increased concern about the pollution of water resources and the destruction of forests. As for climate change and increasing temperatures, although not seen by many as an immediate problem, the increase in those for whom it was an important issue rose from 6.5 percent in 2001 to 12 percent in 2005 to currently 21.5 percent. Meanwhile, anxiety about the use of plant pesticides appeared in the survey for the first time. In 2001, water pollution had not been mentioned at all in the spontaneous responses. Now over a third of the sample referred to it as a major worry. One of the most important findings was the shift toward people's realization of their individual responsibility for the environment. In 2001 and 2005, when asked what they themselves did to contribute to a cleaner world, their answers were more in the nature of what they didn't do, such as littering - a passive approach. Now, with the increase in the number of municipal recycling systems, there has been a considerable increase in the number of people who say they recycle. In 2001, 85 percent said the state or government should bear the main responsibility for the environment; now this has dropped to 70 percent. There is an increasing realization of how important education is. Only one in three school students claims to know what they should be doing for the environment. «People are now realizing that these are behaviors one has to learn from a young age,» said Simitzis. Just one in five of all age groups surveyed said they had enough information about what they should be doing, even though the majority said they wanted to do something. «This is one of the links missing in the chain,» said Simitzis. Nearly everyone (95 percent) wanted more media coverage of environmental issues. Almost an equal percentage said economic development should not be at the expense of the environment. The same applied to the law. About a third called for a ban on construction in out-of-town areas. «The survey also banishes the myth that banning out-of-town planning construction will cause a revolution,» said Karras. «When on one particular island it was suggested to change the building code, everyone expected an uproar, but in fact it was accepted.» «I don't think Greeks are the only people to react in this way,» he added. «When something is clear then we accept it... but if the field is wide open for anyone to do whatever they want for an easy profit, then other people don't see why they shouldn't follow suit.» Another sign of the times was the four-fold increase in references to the Internet since 2005 as an important media influence; people appear to be finding interactive media a more credible alternative. A little over half of the respondents were in favor of splitting the Environment and Public Works Ministry into two separate portfolios. Only 12 percent were against such a move, but just over a third said they were not aware of this issue. Three in four believe that there is no state strategy on the environment, and in 2001 the majority felt the state bore the main responsibility for protecting it. «However, now most people realize that that all of us who drive their own car to work, use light bulbs with old technology and burn petroleum to heat their houses - all share blame for destroying our own environment,» concluded Simitzis. «Now eight in 10 realize it is everyone's responsibility. So it seems this is the right time for the state or political parties to expect citizens to participate actively in any initiative.»