Attitudes among Europeans to the very sensitive subject of the environment are ambiguous to say the least. While they certainly hear a lot about it – possibly too much – they also have other more immediate concerns, perhaps viewing the planet as more of a long-term problem. Also, while they appreciate nature and certainly want to protect it, they do not consider the word “exploitation” to be so very pejorative when it is for the sake of human well-being.
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Graph 1: Scepticism related to science and technology Source: Eurobarometre S&T
“Are science and technology the cause of a deteriorating environment while at the same time offering a possible remedy?” The views of Europeans are mixed about this ambiguity. In the S&T survey, 57% believe science and technology to be principally responsible for environmental problems (with the populations of the new Member States most convinced of this) (see graph 1). The rest are equally divided between those who reject the notion and the don’t knows (20% each). Conversely, 50% of respondents believe that science and technology are necessary to finding solutions (1) and in Denmark and Norway 71% and 70% of respondents respectively hold this view. However, at the time of the 1992 survey in the 12 Member States, the majority view (60%) was that S&T can provide a solution.
Duty, necessity and right
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Graph 2: The duty to protect nature and the right to exploit it Source: Eurobarometre S&T
The Social Values survey also raises the question of the balance between respecting the environment and exploiting nature for the sake of human well-being. This subject was tested with reference to four statements (see graph 2).
The response was almost unanimous: nine in ten Europeans believe that it is our duty to protect nature, even if the price is to limit progress. The Swedes (98%), the Danes and the Norwegians (96%) are most convinced of this, while the Irish and the Maltese are the least committed (78%).
On the question of the necessity and the right to exploit nature – for the sake of humankind – the results are much more mixed. 51% of respondents believe it is necessary and 43% regard it as legitimate.
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Graph 3: National sensibilities Source : Eurobarometre S&T
Comparisons between the duty to protect nature and the right to exploit it can show a coherent picture, as in Hungary where 91% of respondents believe protection is essential and just 10% are prepared to sacrifice it for human progress. The scores for Germany and Austria are also largely in line with this view. In Poland, on the contrary, a 90% score for the duty to protect nature does not prevent 70% also believing in the right to exploit it for justifiable reasons such as human health (see graph 3).
The question on the need to exploit nature is presented in terms of it being unavoidable for achieving progress, while the statement on the right to exploit it is linked to the notion of human well-being. These two terms have different connotations. Progress relates to the development of science, technology and innovation while well-being evokes one’s personal life and notions of health and happiness. This difference produces different attitudes. The Germans, Austrians and Hungarians, for example, are less opposed to exploitation in the name of progress than to exploitation for well-being. The Swedes, on the other hand, see well-being as more legitimate than progress.
(1) Note that the proposal was formulated in negative terms: “Science and technology cannot really play a role in improving the environment”.
54% of Europeans believe that food made from GMOs is dangerous to health. The Cypriots (88%), the Greeks (80%), the Croats (73%) and the Austrians (70%) are most suspicious of their possible effects on health. At 75%, the people of Poland, Cyprus and Lithuania are the most sensitive to the ecological ...
The unloved GMOs
54% of Europeans believe that food made from GMOs is dangerous to health. The Cypriots (88%), the Greeks (80%), the Croats (73%) and the Austrians (70%) are most suspicious of their possible effects on health. At 75%, the people of Poland, Cyprus and Lithuania are the most sensitive to the ecological damage they could cause. Almost a quarter of respondents (23%) preferred not to express an opinion.