Who are teenagers guilty of polluting in Romania? Is environmental education our salvation?

Young people believe that “apathy of citizens” is the main reason that affects the environment, and “economic factors” – the last reason

From a survey commissioned by Bloc Zero and More Green, environmental organizations that aim to understand adolescents’ attitudes in Romania on environmental protection, we found that young people are aware of environmental issues in the world (95.2%), from Romania (91.8%) and from the local level (90.5 %).

If the fact that teens are aware of environmental problems is one of the study’s most reassuring findings, then the fact that young people consider citizens the most guilty of environmental problems is the most troubling finding.

The “apathy of citizens” is the first cause of environmental problems identified by young people, and the “economic system” is in the penultimate place before “natural phenomena”.

Therefore, although economic factors in many industries, especially the energy industry, are responsible for most of the greenhouse gas emissions, teens put them second to last.

Who should find solutions to save nature

The answers to the guilt of environmental disasters are consistent with the answers to who should take responsibility for solving environmental problems.

Adolescents argue that the responsibility for solving environmental problems rests primarily with each individual.

In descending order, responsibility also falls on state institutions, international institutions, affected communities, local governments and, last but not least, economic agents.

The answers to actions that need to be taken to address environmental problems are also in line with the previous answers. Environmental education programs come first, while changing the economic system is in line again, in the penultimate place before “nature protects itself”.

It is partly understandable why teens pass environmental education as the first measure to take to protect the environment given that school is their “world”. At the same time, putting the economic sector at the bottom of responsibilities is the result of exposing young people to environmental messages promoted by companies and a lack of correct information about responsibility for environmental issues in all the sources you mentioned: social media and the press. school, etc

March 25, 2022, Valencia, Spain. Future Youth Friday. | Photo: Jorge Gil / EUROPA PRESS / dpa

Companies forgive, blame ordinary people

The study confirms the belief that the rhetoric of economic agents who exploit natural resources at the expense of ordinary citizens who point the finger at insufficient participation in environmental protection measures is perpetuated in the public space.

In an earlier opinion, we showed how environmental protection in Romania is being taken over by private companies that finance most of the environmental projects. OMV Petrom, an oil company, is often found in the activity reports of the most awarded environmental organizations, followed by supermarkets – Lidl, Carrefour, Kaufland and Metro – and IKEA.

Beyond the discussion about greenwashing, funding sources help us answer questions about the environmental messages that permeate the public space and explain why businesses are pardoned and ordinary people accused.

Adolescents in Romania are not immune to these corporate-funded environmental campaigns, and the study shows that young people have also embraced this discourse about individual responsibility and the innocence of economic agents.

How do young people respond to: “What would you like to do to protect the environment?”

When asked “what would you like to do to protect the environment”, young people put the encouragement of family and friends to protect the environment first, and lastly cycling or riding scooters.

Participation in protests and demonstrations is almost equal to cycling, which is another worrying consequence for the future of the environment, a future in which young people are unwilling to move.

Also in the next chapter, a majority (75%) think environmental issues will get worse, but opinions are quite divided on what’s to come. Some say the planet will become toxic in 50 years, others think we need to be optimistic, because more people are learning now, and others give equal opportunities for good and bad.

From what sources are teenagers informed about the environment?

Unsurprisingly, the main source of information for young people about environmental issues is social media, followed by documentaries, Wikipedia, and school in fourth place, followed by the press, family, friends, environmental organizations, magazines, books, and environmental clubs.

It is interesting, however, that young people do not associate environmental education with school in the first place, perhaps due to the fact that environmental education has not yet spread in schools, where it is available here and there. But more important than having environmental education programs in schools is the quality of environmental education in schools.

School lessons blame OM for pollution

I recently learned from my 8-year-old nephew that he learned in school that humans are responsible for the pollution in the world. Such “lessons” are far from giving us hope that environmental education will bring about change. Blaming the crowd only serves to throw off the clean slate of those who exploit everyone’s natural resources for their own benefit.

The “Adolescent Attitudes Towards Environmental Issues” survey was conducted between February and March 2022, on a sample of 614 adolescents between the ages of 15 and 18, both in urban and rural areas.

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