It was just days after the wildfires had spread havoc around the country last summer. Some fronts were still slowly burning. Yiannis Karakostas, vice rector at the University of Athens, was in his car driving to his homeland, the large island of Evia, one of the worst-affected areas. The professor needed to see the damage inflicted by the towering flames with his own eyes. «As I drove along, I noticed that the driver in front of me tossed his cigarette out the window. Not long before, this very same person would have been watching the wildfire news developments on television. At that point I realized that something’s not going well in this land,» recalled Karakostas. It’s a scene many of us have probably witnessed in this country. In general, much work is needed to improve public conscience. There is no doubt, however, that last summer’s tragic events have raised environmental awareness amid academic circles at the University of Athens, Greece’s largest educational institution. Earlier this week, Christos Kittas, rector at the University of Athens, disclosed that, last August, firefighting units needed to extinguish 12 fires, all the result of arson, within the university’s grounds, along the slopes of Mount Hymettus on the eastern edge of Athens. A conference next week on «Management and Protection of the Environment Through Research and Tuition» at the University of Athens comes as a strong starting point of what promises to be a deluge of related events and initiatives over the next few months, in time for 2008, the Year of the Environment. «The issues concerning the environment are existential for us,» said Kittas. «The environment is our life – us.» The aim is to inform public opinion and make it more sensitive on matters concerning the environment’s protection, because, as highlighted by Karakostas’s story on the driver and the cigarette butt, «it is not just the forest rangers, firefighters and state that lack knowledge and training – we all do.» The upcoming conference opens on Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the main hall at Athens University. Themes to be discussed include climate change, air pollution, waste management, the legal system pertaining to the environment, environmental education, and economic issues relating to the environment. «Everyone is involved with the cost of cleaning up. Nobody is involved with the cost of pollution itself,» said Dimosthenis Asimakopoulos, a vice rector at the University of Athens. «Has anyone ever calculated how much the fact that we live in a heavily polluted city costs the state in terms of healthcare?» While on the subject of healthcare, the presentation of the results of a study on hospital staff should be interesting. Initial results showed that – while the survey was being conducted – 26.37 percent of hospital staff had not been administered vaccinations for hepatitis B and 45 percent had not received tetanus vaccinations. Moreover, the success rates in a test taken by hospital staff on hospital waste management did not exceed 10 percent in most cases. In a repeat test, following specialized seminars for workers, the success rates improved dramatically.