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Attitudes & Actions: People and the environment
THE POPULATION ENVIRONMENT PROCESS MODEL
Source: Statistics Canada, Human Activity and the Environment, 1994.
The principles of ecologically sustainable development underpin much of the thinking and policy relating to environmental protection and economic development in the world today. Sustainable development may be defined as 'development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs'.4 In 1992, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), also known as the Earth Summit, agreed on a comprehensive action plan for global sustainable development (Agenda 21).5
Agenda 21 is notable for its emphasis on the need to integrate economic, social and environmental issues. It is also notable for its strong endorsement of the participation of non-government organisations, local community groups, and ordinary individuals in decision making and implementation of sustainable development strategies, particularly those which can affect their communities.5
Australia's Landcare movement is a good example of such an approach, taken in relation to landscape restoration and sustainable land use. While the majority of all Landcare groups receive government assistance (e.g. funding, materials and information), the planning and implementation of projects is carried out by volunteers in local Landcare groups. Since its inception in 1990, Landcare has received very strong community support. By March 1994 more than 2,000 registered groups were active in environments as diverse as urban bushland and arid rangeland in central Australia. 2
In addition to farmers and community groups, Landcare includes school groups which are active in monitoring programs designed to collect information about various aspects of their local environments including water quality in streams, soil salinity and earthworm populations.2
The Clean Up Sydney Campaign, which became Clean Up Australia, is another example of a grassroots movement which has captured the public imagination and attracts strong community support throughout Australia.2 In 1995, on Clean Up Australia Day, half a million volunteers removed about 10,000 tonnes of rubbish from waterways, parklands and roadsides throughout Australia.7
Consumption, lifestyle and the environment
While much of the environmental protection and sustainable development policy in Australia (and other industrialised countries) has an industry focus, there is also a growing recognition of the need to modify consumer demand.6 It is individual consumers who decide what type of products they want to buy and how much they are willing to pay; what they are prepared to do without; and to what extent they are willing to change their current lifestyles in order to achieve sustainable consumption levels.
There are various environmental programs (both government and non-government) aimed at influencing the attitudes and consumption patterns of individuals and households in Australia. These include promotion of environmental education in schools and higher education curriculums; community education/awareness programs; pricing incentives to encourage energy and water conservation in the home; promotion of the 'reduce, re-use, recycle' philosophy regarding household waste; and a range of measures aimed at reducing use of private cars, particularly in major cities.
Recent surveys indicate that the majority of Australians are concerned about environmental problems, and rank the importance of environmental protection as equal to or greater than economic growth. (See Australian Social Trends 1998, People's concerns about environmental problems). However, cost savings appear to be a much more powerful motivation than environmental protection among households which take action (e.g. insulating their houses or installing solar hot water systems) to conserve energy, while initial costs are an important factor preventing people from taking action. (See Australian Social Trends 1998, Household energy use).
It would appear that people are prepared to modify their consumption patterns and behaviour in favour of the environment when this is economical and does not have a serious impact on their lifestyles. For example, while the proportion of Australian households involved in recycling their waste has increased remarkably in recent years, mainly due to increased availability of kerbside recycling facilities (see Australian Social Trends 1998, Household waste management), there is no evidence to indicate that they are consuming less or generating less waste.
Australians also appear reluctant to reduce their use of private motor vehicles in favour of public transport. To some extent this is associated with the predominance of low density housing in Australia, and the consequent urban sprawl, which can make provision of attractive public transport options uneconomical.
In 1996, 87% of Australian households had at least one registered motor vehicle while 46% had two or more. The vast majority of people drove to work or study alone. For those who engaged in car pooling, and those who used public transport, convenience and cost savings were the main motivations. (See Australian Social Trends 1998, Transport choices and the environment).
1 Statistics Canada, 1994, Human Activity and the Environment.
2 Aplin, G. Mitchell, P. Cleugh, H. Pitman, A. Rich, D. 1995, Global Environmental Crises - an Australian Perspective, Oxford University Press, Melbourne.
3 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), 1997, Environmental Data, Compendium 1997, OECD, Paris.
4 World Commission on Environment and Development, 1990, Our Common Future, Oxford University Press, Melbourne.
5 Keating, M. 1993, The Earth Summit's Agenda for Change - A plain language version of Agenda 21 and the other Rio Agreements, Centre for Our Common Future, Geneva.
6 Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories, 1996, Environmental Economics Seminar Series - Consumption and the Environment, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra.
7 Clean Up Australia, 1995, Annual Report incorporating the Rubbish Report, Cleaning Up Australia, Pyrmont.