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6.8 Public education (Topic h)

The general public of the countries of Western Europe is well aware of the need to protect the environment. Among the early stimulants which promoted awareness were the visible foams on many rivers in Western Europe associated with the widespread use of synthetic detergents soon after World War II, and the report for the Club of Rome under the title The Limits to Growth (1972). The report was available when the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment was convened at Stockholm in June of 1972. The impact of the Conference on public awareness has been great. Attention has focused strongly on the control of water pollution though other priorities included the pollution of the air in urban areas, the safety of food, noise, and the contamination of the environment by radio-nuclides. The latter was boosted after the nuclear accident at Chernobyl on 26 April1986.

Ecologist political parties formed in several of the countries. A "Green" group is now firmly established in the European Parliament, and "Green" parties are part of the governing coalitions in France and Germany. The environment has become an important variable in political decision-making. "Ecotaxes" are now levied in Germany on energy, and a EU-wide application of this approach is under discussion. Wastewater management does not normally figure as the No.1 priority in this process mainly because it has been generally accepted by the public as a matter of course.

Formal educational programmes focus on schools, and youth activities are promoted and supported by non-governmental organizations in all countries. As regards the adult population, environmental information is disseminated largely through the media but the impact of political debate is also increasing. But more often than not, the level of awareness is not yet matched by an appreciation and understanding of the level of the actual environmental stress and the level of impact on the ecology and/or human health resulting therefrom.

Public participation takes place mainly in two ways:

  • At the local level, citizen groups and the media militate for environmental protection and advocate an appropriate level of funding for environmental action.
  • At the individual level, participation takes place primarily through the family budget, e.g. paying sewer charges and the cost of wastewater treatment by the way of charges. There is general acceptance by the polluter/user-pays-principle, i.e. that the collection and treatment of wastewater have their price and that consumers must pay for it. This matter will be further discussed in the following Section 6.9.


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