Euro green-citizen, new kind of species?

Article published on May 12, 2008
Article published on May 12, 2008
“Our house is burning and we are looking elsewhere”. What if these words pronounced by Jacques Chirac, in office at the time, during the third World Summit of 2002 in Johannesburg (South Africa) were about to change.
What if the citizens of Europe became aware of the shape of their “house” and took responsibility for it… That’s what the results of a Eurobarometer survey published last March untitled “Attitudes of European citizens towards the environment” let think.

This survey carried out all over the EU on 27 000 citizens underlined the increasing interest of Europeans towards environmental issues. An “awareness-raising” seems to take effect on their daily life, on their health, nutrition, transportation and even natural disaster such as floods.

This interest upsurge is all the more blazing compared with the last survey carried out in 2004 on the new EU members: plus 20 points especially for Cyprus, Hungry and Slovenia. The concept of “climate changes” strongly appears; 57% of Europeans who were questioned insist on this issue as being one of their main concerns. Euro-citizens agree as well on mistrusting GMO (Genetically modified organism). The most temperate on that issue are the Spaniards (31% opposed) and the most hostile are the French (70% opposed).

The direct environment has, of course, a special impact on citizens’ concerns. We can notice for instance the concern of the Baltic countries on water issues and more specifically the aquatic environment deterioration in the Baltic Sea (64% for Estonia, Lithuania 58%, Latvia 55%).

90% of Europeans think that responsibility lies with the biggest polluting agents but, at the same time, 86% of them thinks playing an increasing role in protecting the environment. On the contrary, disinterest towards environmental issues is being marginalized: only 8% of Romanians and Austrians consider the environment protection as being of little importance.

From theory to practice

How Europeans concretise their new green consciousness? We can see that questioned people declare having made in the mean 2,6 individual actions in favour of nature during the past month. These green actions account for 59% waste separation, 47% energy saving and 37% water saving. However these three actions can be qualified as being “passive” ones. Indeed, waste separation and recycling system are pretty well established in many countries and can’t be even remunerated. Energy prices rising (gas and oil) can also be seen as a consumption bridle.

The most mentioned action remains waste separation especially by 80% of Luxemburg citizens and by the French. Danes (62%), Bulgarians (36%) and Romanians (36%) name first energy saving whereas Baltic countries are more used to buying regional products (from 30 to 49%).

Euro green-citizen identikit

64% of the questioned people restrict themselves to passive actions. Women are 25% to make some actions (20% only for men). And surprisingly, the most dynamic age grade (i.e. who makes at least a few actions) is the one between 40 and 54 years old. In consequence, the most active green-citizen would be a 25 year-old woman or older, with college education, rather, with left political position and with a feeling of being well-informed on environmental issues.

However, a duality remains between the will to act in favour of environment and facts. for instance, 75% of interviewees declare being ready to buy green products even though they are expensive, but only 17% has taken the plunge during the last month. The widest gap between will and purchase can be found on the Cypriot side (91% wish buying green products but only 14% do it); the narrowest gap is for the Danes (86% - 41%). These differences are justified by financial considerations and by a lack of information especially by misunderstanding labels on green products.

More « polluting agent = payer »

37% of Europeans are in favour of stricter sanctions such as fines; 33% favour implementing current laws; 30% are for more efficient information and 29% for financial incitation. But the most important, for 67% Europeans, is taking decisions in favour of environment at EU level. This percentage raises up to 78%who support the idea of European civil protection force in case of natural disasters.


Picture copyright: Jay Lopez/SXC