Present state of environmental awareness in the Czech Republic
Adopting environmental education as an important preventive tool of environmental policy
Education as a long-term tool is underestimated and frequently reduced to a less valuable attachment to other policy initiatives, such as political, legislative, technical or economic measures.
State involvement in environmental education in the Czech Republic is formulated in Governmental Resolution no. 232 of April 1992, "Strategy of State Support to Environmental Education for the 90's." The implementation of this document is problematic and often a formality on paper, with little practical usefulness. In some sectors there is no legislation in place, e.g., regarding local authorities. The legislation related to the non-profit sector is severely lacking. Until now all NGO activities involving finances have been viewed and taxed as for-profit activities.
Human resources development
Special training for educators specialised in environmental education is missing. NGOs need theoretical, academic backgrounds and management skills training.
The Czech Republic is relatively well-developed in this respect:
The National Center for Environmental Education was established in April 1993, to support the development of environmental education in all sectors.
The environmental education department at the Ministry of Environment was reduced to one person in the first part of this year. Last month, however, a department with 10 staff members was re-established.
In schools, both primary and secondary, new initiatives have appeared - either creating schools specialising in environmental protection or attempting to improve the physical and pedagogical environment of the school, including progressive teaching forms and methods.
Various resort facilities are dealing with some aspects of environmental education, including the Czech Institute for Nature Conservation, REGIS (a Ministry of Culture facility dealing with local culture), and the National Center for Support of Health.
In the NGO sector, there are around 150 centres and NGO groups dealing with environmental education, some 20 of them professionally.
Methodological and resource materials support
About 30 original and translated methodological publications have been published in Czech Republic in the last two years. The methodological and informational bulletin on environmental education, Sisyfos, is published monthly by the EVA Foundation. A number of centres have special environmental education resource libraries and offer services for local groups, schools and the public. Two or three of the best NGO produced magazines are used as resource materials in schools. There are three organisations that lend videos on environmental topics in the Czech Republic.
Environmental education is financed by the state budget, foreign sources and occasionally by private sponsors. The proportion of the state budget given to environmental education support is a reflection of the general underestimation of this tool. There is no correlation between the number and activity of NGOs dealing with environmental education and the designated amount of money.
Basic Channels for Raising Environmental Awareness
||All children and youth
not targeted enough
|MediaTV and Radio
Environmental Education in the Transition Period
Due to rapid changes in the Czech society and around the world, the role of environmental education and the concept of environmental literacy is shifting. For many years scientific knowledge was the primary and often only part of environmental education in Central and Eastern Europe. The present period, full of uncertainty and transitions, is forcing people to face and cope with social, economic, environmental and personal issues together in a complicated web of interrelations. Therefore, the concept of environmental education and literacy for the rapidly changing society has to be substantially re-evaluated. Several studies show that knowledge alone is not a sufficient agent for altering behaviour patterns. One illuminating study showed that members of green NGOs, in spite of having a much higher level of environmental awareness and knowledge than the average citizen, are behaving in the same way as the average sample of the population. This leads us to the idea that environmental literacy today should not be understood only as the deep knowledge of environmental issues, but requires training and shifts in skills and attitudes too. Similarly, environmental literacy cannot remain the dominion of only biology or ecology. The following scheme addresses the main fields of interest within environmental literacy, according to the nature of the present reality.
Based on the model by David Selby and Graham Pike in Global Teacher, Global Learner,1989, adapted by Milan Caha, 1993
The driving forces and variables
The issue of forces and variables affecting environmental literacy is very complex. The following scheme defines major forces and variables:
Between two major aspects of the system - actors and issues - there are different types of interactions:
- physical - through processes/events (environmental impact to actor and actions to environmental recovery)
- non-physical - through changes of attitudes of actors to issues.
In this system very important are also interrelations between sensitivity and processes as potential stimulation or inhibitor. With respect to the dynamics of the system, especially the question of sensitivity, the crucial point of environmental education is how to increase the sensitivity of society to environmental issues. As discussed before, the simple relation between knowledge and change of behaviour does not work. This may be due to the absence of other elements necessary to create a self-supportive web of positive feedback loops:
How can such a system be enhanced and empowered on the level of individuals/society?
- by personal/direct impact of or involvement in issues
- by pressure to people's impressionable areas: moral (through Faith or belief systems); social (fashion, uniformity); personal/family budget;and, fears and hopes
- by offering realistic and attractive alternatives
Understanding where we are
According to the public opinion poll conducted by an independent research agency in 1990, people in the Czech Republic ranked environmental issues as the second most serious and urgent problem to be addressed. After less than 3 years, the scale of priorities has changed drastically. Environmental issues were placed as the 8th- 9th priority in a similar poll. The group of people absolutely satisfied with the state of the environment increased two times between July 1990 and July 1993, and in the same period the fraction of people absolutely not satisfied decreased from 44% to 28%. What does this mean? Were the main environmental issues solved in the Czech Republic? Do people know less about environmental problems? The answer can be found in four phenomena. People in the Czech Republic:
- are not used to coping with the amount of new social and economic problems (these new concerns are attracting all of their attention and energy);
- do not understand the interconnections of environmental, economic and social issues;
- are not able to think with a long-term perspective; and
- lost interest because of the absence of visible progress and/or realistic and acceptable future scenarios.
What people in the Czech republic know about environmental issues and needs:
According to the research of target groups for environmental education (Blaek and Reich, 1991), 81% of the Czech Republic's citizens are aware of the environmental situation in the country. The level of awareness and how seriously people view the situation are directly related to the types of pollution and their severity in the region in which they live. Based on research in 1993, the most concerned people live in Northern Bohemia, while the most satisfied people are in South Moravia and East Bohemia (traditionally less polluted and industrialised areas).
a) The matrix
The average citizen understands, the environment is not good overall, but there is an acceptable level of awareness only for some major types of pollution and a few other environmental issues. People feel that air pollution (93%), and water pollution (92%) are urgent issues. There was a big increase (from 55% to 78%) regarding fears of ozone depletion in the last two years. Traditionally, people have been interested in nature protection and the preservation of natural areas, but only a small percentage of the population is aware of the actual environmental state of the protected areas.
b) The Society
Built heritage has traditionally been one focus of people's interest. Even during the previous period, the care of historical sites was (at least orally) supported both by state (including the state organised lottery) and several organisations. The care was not systematic, focusing only on a few the most popular historical sites and selective according to ideological criteria. This interest of the people has survived the political changes, and the built environment,including town centres and parks, is still valued more than undisturbed natural environments by the vast majority of people.
More problematic is the approach to the modern built environment. The last 40 years devastated both towns and countryside, producing uniform, inhumaneunaesthetic and unhealthy places for living. In destroyed areas, such as Northern Bohemia the correlation can be seen between social issues and the quality of the environment.
The importance of settlement patterns is beginning to be understood more and more widely. Several initiatives have appeared both in the state and NGO s sector. The most visible one is the fight of Hnutí Duha and other NGOs to save the Northern Bohemian village Libkovice, which is threatened by the coal mining. There are also several new NGOs dealing with recovery of agricultural areas, such as the Society for the recovery of villages, and several small organic farming communities.
Social problems - Based on recent research, health and environmental problems in Northern Bohemia stemmed from the erosion of the social structure. This correlation of health, social, and environmental problems, however, is not understood and all of this issues are treated separately.
The relationship between the environment and the quality of life is still not very well understood in our society. Concepts of the quality of life are often reduced to material standards and a consumer life style, inherited from the previous political period. Another aspect of this issue is the underestimation of preventive tools available for both health and environmental issues. After the revolution, the western type of consumerism started to aggressively enter the everyday life of people, including aggressive advertisements, disposable goods, and other similar symptoms.
Understanding what we are doing
Changes caused by the transition period
Teaching during such a dynamic period seems to be a difficult task. This should be a high priority in environmental education. The basic problem is that this field is very new and not clearly defined, even for environmentalists and teachers . From the ecological viewpoint the period is too short and in most cases the long-term impact of the transition can be a prediction only. Therefore, the understanding of the environmental changes caused by the transition period is more or less a question of the time horizons and visibility of the process.
Changes in agriculture
This is a broadly examined field, where the environmental impact can be seen quickly and by the public. Privatisation of big co-operative and state farms followed by dividing big "meal producing factories" into smaller units prepared the basic conditions for more environmentally sensitive methods of agriculture. This, together with the understanding of the relation between proper nutrition and human health, has led to a widely shared understanding of these issues. The transition has also produced a relatively complex environmental policy from the Ministry of Agriculture, promoting different biotechnology and environmentally friendly usage of the land through a system of grants and subsidies.
Changes in industry
Environmental concerns are included as part of the privatisation process. Despite the legal support of environmental interests in the process, this area is foggy and not understandable even for environmental community itself.
Changes in trade
After democratisation in Central and Eastern Europe, the market, previously closed within the Commecom frame, became open to the whole world. This has had less visible environmental consequences (e.g., thetropic timber trade) and more visible consequences(e.g.,the paper import from foreign countries has caused the collapse of paper collection in several areas).
Changes in transport
During the transition period the public transport, namely the train system, has been reduced. Motivated by cost efficiency (calculated by a questionable method), many smaller, local lines ceased operation. This caused not only social problems (many commuting workers were dependent on this type of transport), but also environmental problems (many of these people are forced to use individual transport now). There have been several NGO campaigns to protect public transport.
Changes in ownership patterns
It is still very difficult to judge the impact of privatisation on the environment, because the process has just begun. We can see from different signs, both
- environmentally friendlier agriculture,
- proper caring of the landscape and
- the losses of buildings for environmental education due to their commercial use (e.g. the best environmental education centre, Lipka Brno, is threatened by privatisation now), and
- the exploitive approach to new possessions - typically forest.
Important concepts not understood by the public in Central and Eastern Europe
In the past, a significant majority of the population was excluded from the decision-making regarding all essential matters. This basic right in a democratic society is still not understood enough in Central and Eastern Europe. The first experience with the implementation of an environmental impact assessment law in the Czech Republic shows an urgent need for training people interested in negotiating and communication skills. Without such skills public hearings and other opportunities for public involvement are not effective and even useless for the democracy and environment. These skills are important for the development of the environmental community, as well.
After years of the devastating ideal of short-term profit in the name of ideology, nature, as well as the social fabric, are threatened by the equally devastating idea of aggressive and limitless growth of the economy. Distorted prices of natural resources and energy remain from the previous period, as well as the people's misunderstanding of these issues. The notion of a limitless supply of renewable and non-renewable resources is widespread in Central and Eastern Europe. The rethinking of the methodology for environmental cost assessment is needed in order to introduce real environmental costs into economic calculations. At the same time, dialogue with a broad spectrum of economists should be initiated, based on a long-term perspective and including environmental aspects in their education and methodology.
Assessment of environmental risk is often based only on emotional reaction. People often don not distinguish between dangerous and less dangerous phenomena, or avoidable and unavoidable risk. The 'not in my backyard' syndrome is well-known in Central and Eastern Europe. Unfortunately, in many cases, this is based on bad experiences in the past. On the other hand, some types of risk are generally ignored. Methods of simple multi-criterial systems analysis should be included in public education. To live with unavoidable, acceptable risk, and to prevent avoidable and not acceptable risk, is also a challenge for present environmental education and awareness.
REC * PUBLICATIONS * PAPER SERIES * UNDERSTANDING ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES