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Schriftenreihe des Europa Institutes Budapest, Band 20:73–89.


Laymen in Environmental Protection



At the turn of the millennium environmental protection – with less than four decades of history behind it – exited from its strictly technical sphere and entered the wider realm of social science. It is obvious that today environmental protection is no longer a subject matter only for specialists, introducing protective measures, but it is the accompaniment and consequence of human actions. Its definition and technical means have become spheres of multidisciplinary (research), supported and enhanced by the tools of the social sciences.

Because of its multifaceted, general nature, the science of environmental protection has become diversified and the different spheres appear to be almost independent fields of knowledge. Not surprisingly, it is often difficult to draw a dividing line among its various “disciplines,” because they are interrelated fields. As a science, it deals with physical interrelations in the natural sciences – physics, chemistry, biology – in the classical sense and also with individual, and super-individual social relations, with interrelations between the living and non-living natural environment and with connections between the natural and artificial environments.

Environmental protection appears as a moral and ethical issue for everyone and compels individuals to formulate questions and answers. In turn, the process encourages the expansion of knowledge and shapes the individual’s consciousness of the environment. Such consciousness influences one’s actions and guides one toward correct, “ideal” behaviour in matters of the environment. Consequently, the individual will feel responsibility for the cause of the environment and this, in turn, encourages him – in various ways, to be sure, – to weigh the consequences of his actions. Such considerations help us to understand the interrelations between actions and their consequences – according to our own ethical standards.

This short essay will attempt to explore the role of the civil (laymen’s) sphere in environmental protection at the turn of the millennium. It will deal with personal sensitivity toward the environment, with the development of a person’s involvement in its protection; it will also explore the system of institutional frameworks, their expectations and the process of information reaching the individual. In other words, it will consider some characteristics of communications about the environment.

The Social Research Centre of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and the Europa Institute Budapest jointly organized a conference on April 17, 2002, entitled “Laymen’s cooperation in the protection of the environment.”1 Discussions with invited experts2 provided an opportunity to compare Hungarian environmental conditions with Austrian activities of environmental protection, the leading practice in Europe.

In the Hungarian case the legal framework for the protection of the environment is provided by Law LIII., enacted in 1995. Its section VIII, paragraphs 95-100 deal with the participation of individual citizens and civil associations in the process of the protection of the environment. According to the law, it is the right of citizens to call the attention of the users of the environment and of the state authorities to the pollution or endangerment of the environment. It is a citizen’s right to participate in the process related to the environment personally or through his representative. Paragraph 98 deals with the legal standing of associations (plaintiffs), guarantees their right to legal representation, their participation in proceedings, their right to receive prior notification related to legal proceedings and their right to offer opinions. According to paragraphs 100 and 98, section 2, point C and the section 3, the right to present opinions is also available for representatives of a trade/profession concerning issues that touch on their field of expertise.

Citizens must possess appropriate information in order to be able to exercise their lawful rights. Such information reaches them through communications about environmental protection, as they spread and become part of their everyday life. General knowledge about environmental protection by the citizenry determines the level of sensitivity and caring about the environment. The success of the initiatives about environmental protection is determined by citizens’ organizations and expertise.

When one examines the literature about the protection of the environment, one thing is obvious; in spite of the relatively recent past of environmental science, it has a considerable number of expert publications. This literature has one characteristic; every field of science considers it to be its own. Yet it is also expressed through two methods. One of these is a flood of expensive books written by highly respected authors, published by large publishing houses, which can be found on the shelves of every well-stocked library. The other is the collection of equally valuable works – at least valuable for the discipline – issued through various technologies in small numbers, the so-called “civilian” literature (NGO), written by enthusiastic authors who want to reach out to those effected by the problems. Thanks to the development of the discipline, several fields of knowledge are now involved in promoting the cause of the protection of the environment, on almost every level.

Receiving information is, therefore, the right of civil society, guaranteed by law, and it is obtainable. However, for effective communication, the change of attitudes on both sides would be necessary. Individuals must be able to perceive the principles that determine their sphere of life and determine their existence.


What is the Environment?

We define the environment – in a somewhat selfish manner – as the living and lifeless surroundings of human beings. It provides the framework for human existence, for the activities and interactions of mankind. From the earliest times, the environment’s basic elements have been land, water, air and fire. These basic natural elements have always offered fundamental challenges, since human population – similarly to other life forms – have an ecological maximum where humans are able to perform their natural functions comfortably. The maximum may be summarized as follows;

– 1500-2000 calories of daily food intake;

– 2-3 litres of clear water daily;

– 20-30 cubic meters of clean air every day;

– 18-34 degrees Celsius of air temperature;

– Sufficient living space of various individual sizes and activities.

Environmental elements are not confined within such maxima. The answer of the living world to deviations from the maximum is the ability to adjust that placed pressures on every population during the evolutionary process. During the evolution of mankind it was not thicker fur, but the domestication of fire; not physical power, but the ability to form associations and create tools that is, socialization and intelligence, that have become the means of adjustment to natural circumstances. Adjustment, with the help of creativity and skilful handcrafts, had succeeded so well that mankind had become a cosmopolitan race and spread all over the globe. The outstanding ability of adjustment was man’s chief advantage; his ability to think was enhanced and the invention of ever better tools occurred not as a consequence of evolution, but of communication between individuals. The spread of a favourable characteristic did not have to take generations. This development led to the escalation and exponential growth of knowledge.



Humans have created and developed a meta-environment, that is, civilization, by their ability to think in a more complex way than other living creatures. A major characteristic of civilization is man’s ability to lift common concepts out of his value system and replace them with abstractions. Civilization in a broad sense means a higher level of achievement in the development and material knowledge of a society, a concept signifying its material means, technology, and science.3

An unintended result of this “higher level of achievement” is the harm caused by civilization, the unfavourable influences of the changes caused by civilization to living organisms, [...] but we shall discuss these effects below.

A civilization is an ideological system operating hierarchically through effective transfer of knowledge, by which humans attempt to satisfy their needs at the expense of their natural requirements (through the development of material means). In other words, man’s value system and priorities have changed. His natural freedom and needs have been restricted and forced into a limited background.

The human race, by taking advantage of its evolutionary advantages, has occupied the top of the food chain and crowned itself the king of the universe. In spite of its rapid intellectual development, it brought along many ancient characteristics and instincts in this journey which, as a consequence of adjustment to the circumstances of life, had lost their original functions. For instance, such an instinct is manifest in behaviour concerning the development of hierarchy in social relations. This behavioural trait is fundamentally determined by aggressiveness. As a social being, the individual attempts to set himself into the rank of the line and thus he contributes to the development of a hierarchy within a group. Hierarchy determines the behaviour of the social group through the example provided by the strongest, most experienced, bravest individual. By this, it shows strength to outsiders, and provides advantages for the group in obtaining food. Rank determines the amount of share an individual receives from jointly obtained goods, and his rank also determines the inheritability of individual characteristics. A position in rank is acquired through struggle and competition and it possesses symbolic characteristics. In everyday life one can determine another’s rank by recognizing the meaning of symbols without the need for a struggle. Struggles usually represent efforts to change one’s position in the ranks. Humans have developed their own method in this matter, called rules of social behavior.4

Civilization also means the (civil) hierarchy of individuals who are familiar with a system of behaviour and observe the rules of this system. This is what is called society.

Society has created conditions reaching beyond the basic elements; this is called the social environment. It is the realm where social life and interactions take place. The goal of environmental protection is the development of harmony between the social- and the natural environments.

The basic components of the social environment are human beings, organized in communities and their institutions. Society and its values have been concentrated around several ideologies. Their common character includes organization, whose principles are part of the knowledge of the respective community, known as a social contract (or in modern terms, a constitution. Trans). A social contract is a theory of the emergence of rights according to which the state and of its members’ rights are the result of a conscious contract among human beings [...] According to its proponents, humans cede certain individual rights (or parts of them), characteristics of a natural existence and transfer them to the state in order to protect their personal security and the institutions of private property. People conclude social contracts because they believe that social and individual interests can be reconciled by the state. If a ruler should not govern according to natural laws, however, and endangered the lives of his subjects, (acted against the rules of self-preservation), then the people may refuse to obey him, the social contract is annulled, and natural conditions are reestablished.5

The emergence of environmental problems, including the pollution of the environment, represents obvious breaches of the social contract, because individuals make sacrifices in order that the state’s institutions protect their interests. The deterioration of the environment endangers the basic elements of society, their maximum condition.

What is the nature of such endangerment? As a result of a long line of detrimental compromises, the condition of the globe is deteriorating. No one will ever say that his goal is the pollution of the environment, because this would make no sense. The problem is presented by the fact that when the impacts of creative activities are evaluated, it is not the long-range impacts, but short-term individual profits that provide the motives for the planning of a given activity. In most cases we minimize the adverse effects as disturbing side influences, when the environment is being polluted. We make compromises in almost every one of our actions, when we produce food and clothing, build our dwelling, participate in transportation or amusements and especially when our activities concern earning money. When we evaluate the impact of our everyday regular-, or occasional decisions, the possibility of endangering the environment receives little consideration. We make decisions too often at the expense of the environment and, consequently, it becomes a routine matter for us to disregard it or undervalue it.

We consider developed democracies to be the highest stage of civilization. One characteristic of the developed democracies is a type of decision making, which considers the interests of the community on the basis of decisions provided by society itself. In other words, “democracy means making decisions on the basis of the interests of the majority, in a manner that also considers the defence of the interests of the minority.”6 We can safely say, therefore, that the protection of the environment is in the interest of the entire community. It is a strange fact that we sometimes willingly abandon our right for a healthy environment, included in the social contract, in order to increase our personal well-being and wealth. The process is then conserved by the will of the majority. The will of the majority has been in operation against natural conditions for a long time. What is wrong with the thinking of the majority? It is the individual. The individual is in the position to change the current situation.

I might possess absolute values as a single individual; I may be fat or skinny, happy or sad, healthy or sick. Yet as the quality of the environment deteriorates, I can only be sick, skinny and sad.

According to my place in society, I may be – besides the above mentioned factors – civilized or uncivilized, useful or harmful, friendly or grumpy, stupid or smart, rich or poor, protective or destructive of the environment. However, these characteristics which originate in social interactions are determined by existing social norms, by the social contract not in an absolute, but in a relative manner. I must instantly ask; “if the existing social contract does not take steps to prevent the deterioration of the environment, – or even provides approval for such a process, – could its value system be a valid measure for comparison or evaluation?”

Yes, it could be.

Why? Let us examine the details of our civilized thinking! Our thinking is based on our internal convictions, on our preferences and priorities. One of the fundamental forms of the acquisition of human knowledge is systematic learning based on experience. The other form is instinctive comparison based on ranking and by other known symmetries. Learning on the basis of experience is a process which provides very solid knowledge and logical points that leads to the recognition of obvious connections (“the hot stove burns my hand” which happens once in a lifetime but makes us careful with hot items for the rest of our lives). Ranking and comparisons are present in every one of our actions, they mean shades and degrees of differentiation and, consequently, we use them during every decision process (better, bigger, nicer, faster, more comfortable, finer, etc.) We make decision solely on such bases. Naturally, comparisons happen mostly on the basis of internal values. This is the point at which internal values have special significance; they are built upon the influences provided by our civilization, by our family and by our experiences, and we maintain them from the cradle to the grave. The value system is active throughout our entire life span, it cannot be disconnected and it is part of our experiences. It helps us understand interrelations which cannot be learned. Our language calls this ”common sense knowledge” Our value system is the basis of our principles, of our convictions; our logic is built upon it and our feelings find an anchor in it. The value system makes it possible for us to recognize differences of shades and degrees. It may also mislead us by its subjectivism. I would like to reflect on this process by three typical examples;

– 1. It is comfortable to go to work by car, but it is detrimental for the environment. At the same time, I have not yet seen anyone suffocating because of exhaust fumes (experience = 0) , but you are aware that it is not good because you know people with lung cancer (negative experience) and others who were in an accident (negative experience) but compared to the truck you saw yesterday, your car is environment friendly (positive experience) , it has no detrimental effect (positive experience) and it is convenient for you (positive experience), therefore, you compare, (0 and negative, and negative, and, positive and positive, and equals positive) and you are taking the car.

– 2. A volcanic eruption causes tremendous air pollution in comparison to which the emission of my furnace is minimal; therefore, why should I lower my thermostat when I have no means to curb a volcanic eruption?

– 3. The American automobiles use, on an average, 18 litres of fuel per hundred kilometres; my car’s 9 litres fuel consumption is really environmentally friendly in comparison, so why should I not use it with the knowledge that pollution does not depend on me, since in comparative terms, I improve average fuel consumption in the world even if only to a small degree.


Knowledge of the Environment; Recognition of Interrelationships

Knowledge of the environment is a quantitative process of learning that can be continuously expanded. The process develops when the knowledge of the values of the environment is coupled with familiarity of the impact of human activities. Such thinking is not new, since people who have depended upon the condition of the environment, have watched it consciously and carefully, in order to prevent its deterioration as a consequence of their actions. The loss of the knowledge of the environment came about because of the influence of civilization. As the result of this influence, human beings gradually became free of environmental conditions (they dress up when it is cold; they heat up their abode; when it is dark, they turn on the lights; they fertilize bad lands; dig wells; travel at great speed, etc) and their impact upon their surroundings are regulated by their interests.

The process of becoming independent of the environment resulted in the fact that, during one’s lifetime, one paid less and less attention to the physical and biological environment – and life has become more and more comfortable. Besides the loss of interrelationships, new material values were built into man’s value system. This led to the devaluation of the natural environment. Our advanced contemporary civilization – experienced altogether by only two-fifth of the population of the globe, and enjoyed only by one-fifth – developed a society of self indulgence and (material) accumulation and with it, one of waste. At the beginning of the acceleration of development, a few exceptional thinkers who had observed the interrelationships rang the environmental alarm bells. This brought the issues of the condition of the environment to the focus of public attention and resulted in the recognition of the fact that there has never been a greater need for our sobering up with the help of knowledge of the environment and its interrelationship with life.


Care for the Environment

Knowledge of the environment, coupled with a willingness and ability to act on its behalf, are the bases of the concept of care for the environment. The dissemination of this concept means (with cooperation by the individual’s natural value system and information) that the expectations for the care of the environment can be expressed in individual action. This is the personal cooperation that can be expected from the individual in order to slow down and even stop the current speed by which the environment is being degraded and the harm already caused to be healed. However, common sense, expressed in the expansion of consciousness of the necessity to care for the environment, is in logical contradiction to the special position of humankind – as I mentioned this above when discussing the harmful influence of civilization.

Human Monoculture

The example previously taken from agriculture illustrates our culture best and provides a parallel between monocultural, energy-intensive production methods and human civilization. I include a few remarks about the concept as follows;

– 1. Monoculture; it is a practice, based on the mass-production of a specific species, coupled with chemicals and high levels of mechanization. Its means include: chemical tools, continuing improvement of the stock, genetic manipulation. Its result: pollution of the soil and surface water, reduction of the number of natural varieties of living beings, unfavourable impact of pesticides. The essential goal of the technology used is to protect the species against incalculable natural influences.

– 2. Energy-intensive production: increased use of energy in the interest of higher yields.

Civilization is mankind’s monoculture in which everything has become subordinated to the satisfaction of human needs (basic and extended). The outcome is waste which is the by-product of the developed countries, leading to the impoverishment of underdeveloped societies. Further refining the term, we may speak of the monoculture of the members of developed civilizations. The lengthening of natural life expectancy with contributions by the modern chemical industry and medical science, complete comfort and luxuries and the extension of wealth, became civilization’s dominant factors. At the same time we are proud of the fact that in the midst of our comfortable lives, not shared by too many people, we have a full stomach and spend some energy by worrying about the status of our environment. The better-to-do people (I repeat, maximum 10 % of the world’s population) make sacrifices to improve the condition of the environment; through their customary consumption practices they give priority to products that are supposedly environment-friendly, and which are, in most cases, more expensive. Naturally, the market will produce so-called environmental-friendly goods, because these are in demand and this is the method of maintaining consumption. It is also obvious that less environment-friendly mass products will cost less but they nevertheless remain on the shelves. Poorer people who comprise the majority of the world’s population have no chance to buy environment-friendly goods even with the maintenance of existing consumption levels.

Sometimes knowledge of the environment causes guilty feelings. In order to calm such feelings, the market will provide a solution; it offers steps to be taken against environmental damage in distant lands which arouse feelings of solidarity. One must not do anything else but be sorry for the poor seals, sea mammals, and the three-toed monkeys of Madagascar that are on the verge of extinction. We may be confronted by and feel sympathetic every day for the victims of natural disasters, the species that are marching toward extinction. Yet, we still gladly eat cans of crab from the North Sea, tropical fruits and buy inexpensive clothes from Bangladesh.

It is interesting to note that we do not have to do anything besides the feeling of solidarity; we do not have to clean oil-polluted trash, nor do we have to collect garbage strewn and piled neatly along the edge of the forest. It is enough to condemn these facts to ourselves and explain at home while sitting in an armchair in front of the TV set, that we would never commit such acts against the environment. We would even go further; we would stop at any price the harming of the environment in the area of our living space (in our immediate surroundings! Because we would not want to be confronted with the by-products of civilization, with the by-products that are actually part of our life style.) Environmental literature calls such an attitude NIMBY- (Not In My Back Yard) effect. This induces us to make every available effort to stop the creation of technologies for environmental protection in our immediate living space. The only problem is that the objects in question will be built in someone else’s neighbourhood (garbage dumps, compost-heaps, refuse-burners, etc.). Their building is difficult because they face continuous social resistance.

The Role and Activities of Institutions, Associations and Civil Societies in the Protection of the Environment

The discussions conducted with Austrian and Hungarian participants of the conference mentioned in the Introduction of this essay, dealing with the role of civilians in environmental protection, called attention to interesting parallels as well as to significant differences. The participants in these discussions were outstanding representatives of national or regional institutions or scientific associations, an Austrian-Hungarian firm for environmental protection and representatives of the Austrian party of Greens.

The legal frameworks, administrative institutions and social organizations of environmental protection had already been well established on national and regional levels in both countries. These nation-wide institutions possess large networks of international relations and maintain connections with various craft- and civil societies through delegated representatives, environmental conferences, seminars, continuing education, etc.

Representatives from both countries consider scientific research to be the “hinterland” of dealing with and protecting the environment. The majority of research is directed toward the organizations of sustainable production in environmental protection systems, related to industrial activities. The area of research of special interest to the Austrian university’s institution concerns waste management and the elimination of environmental damage. 95 percent of the activities of the institution are supported by the market, its experts participate in the entire sphere of scientific life and they acquired great respect in industry. There is a great demand for education and expertise in economics and environmental protection in the Hungarian institution (30 percent of the graduates find jobs in the profession) by organs of environmental protection and counselling services. However, companies dealing directly with technologies of environmental protection show less interest in the graduates. The expert preparation of Hungarian civil associations is varied, yet their participation in education and education-related programs is significant.

The Austrian-Hungarian company is a member of the national organization of associations dedicated to the protection of the environment. It conducts daily discussions with local autonomous governments and takes on the role of supporter of initiatives. Its representatives in civil societies and the local activists are members of the Committee of Social Supervision created by the company. It provides appropriate information and expert advice and organizes programs for environmental protection.

The differences between the organizations of the two countries are rooted in economics, ideology and standards of life. This is especially evident in the value systems and in the consciousness about the environment which had a good base in Austria to start with; there was no sharp break in their development and traditional life styles have always been valued. The Austrians believe that the condition of the environment is an important component of the quality of life. Nature is being considered as capital. The concepts of environmental protection have always followed lines in Austria that characterized developed countries, and public consciousness of environmental sensitivity is supported by the media. The high state of environmental consciousness in Austria is proven by the political successes of the Green party.

The coordination of existing possibilities and cooperation among administrative- and scientific institutions would help in the solution of problems existing in Hungary; the cooperation between these organs on the one hand and the local, regional, national and international institutions on the other would also help. Well-prepared mass-communication media could also contribute to the cause.

In summary:

– Society ensures legal preconditions, since the citizens have a constitutional right to a healthy environment. Regulations for the protection of the environment also ensure public participation in the work of the administration.

– Every public personality considers the role of civilians in environmental protection to be a determining factor.

– A primary condition for the development of environmental consciousness is effective communication.

– Environmental protection is a continuously evolving and changing process. Appropriate education is a must.

– Everyone is attempting to develop good relations with the social organizations of environmental protection.

– The political representation of “green” principles requires an effective, hierarchical organization. This is contrary to the traditional network of the organizational structure of environmental protection.

Societal organization determines the spread and support of principles of environmental protection. Our survey reflects the expected results, according to which the use of effective channels of communication will prevent a clash of interests among the various social strata. Conflicts usually develop because of incomplete or interrupted communications. In addition, the development of environmental consciousness does not occur during the lifetime of one single generation, and an important question is , “to what measure and by what sort of support the success of environmental interests can be realized.”

What is Expected of the Individual and by Whom?

Research shows that the role of civilians (laymen) is fundamental for the protection of the environment, yet such a role is not considered unanimously useful. Fortunately, no one doubts the fact that the role of knowledge about the environment is important and that the usefulness of information is unquestionable. Let us examine the expectations of administrators, of the participants in the social organizations (NGOs), the workers in scientific spheres and participants in economic life.


Expectations of the Administration

The (state) administration is in a difficult position because it has to ensure the right of the citizens “to a healthy environment,” included in the constitution, yet the duty of the citizens to protect the environment and correct the harm caused to it is nowhere written down. Only means of economic- and criminal prosecution are available for this purpose. The use of the available means is, in practice, limited; they include continuous prohibitions (within limits), and the introduction of economic penalties (penalties for pollution, taxes on production and transportation, payments for usage, etc.) aimed at stopping increasing damage done to the environment. These means eventually burden the consumers who are not directly interested in decreasing the load on the environment, but are struggling to maintain or improve an increasingly expensive lifestyle. Their expenses are constantly increasing because of the need to protect the environment. The maintenance of consumption whose energy usage is also constantly increasing, results in further damage to the environment. The amount of penalties handed out by the welfare states is limited. The basis for the determination of responsibility for environmental damage is conscious behaviour that can be proven to be contrary to the laws. Yet the laws serving as deterrent are not sufficiently strong for the purpose.

Perhaps the administration had not yet formulated its expectations for citizen behaviour. This appears to be a lack of principles. Because the knowledge of the rapidly increasing size of legal documentation of environmental protection (several tens of thousands of pages) – even in a selective form – can not be expected, nor can it be required from the citizenry. Yet regulations about the protection of the environment permeate our everyday lives. Sometimes they appear in the form of irritating pettiness, inconvenience and intolerable expenses. (Remember the requirement for the inspection of vehicles with a view of environmental protection, the “green card,” whose impact on the environment is theoretically good, but whose practice is deplorable. Or the investments in building sewage system, the charges for their usage and payments demanded for garbage collections.) Actions that encourage protective behaviour on behalf of the environment, fear of corruption and material difficulties, are limiting the laws’ effectiveness. It should be noted, however, that administrative support for the effectiveness of energy usage must be appreciated, even though it received undue criticism.

Therefore, the administration is required to define the rules in a better way and enforce them during social interactions; it is also the institution that supervises them and is responsible for their observance. The task is humongous and it requires an effective transmission of information and a flexible institutional structure. The administration must develop channels of two-way communication with every participant, because it needs the most precise information available for the mechanisms of decision-making. Because of the characteristics of regulations, the administration needs the feedback. This is one of the reasons for the need to inform the citizenry and for their inclusion in the process of environmental protection. The (state) administration needs and expects to receive information and active cooperation from the citizens.


Expectations of Civil Associations for Environmental Protection

We must avoid generalizations because of the multicoloured character of the civilian sphere, but the determination of common characteristics is still possible.

A common aim of all social organizations involved in the process is to direct attention to issues of environmental protection. Beyond this task, the activities of most NGO-s are directed to the actual protection and improvement of the environment.7 They provide physical space for the exchange of information, for thinking together. Therefore, they are the organizations having direct communications with individuals.

Civil societies expect individuals to attend to and accept responsibility for the maintenance of the environment. They should gather around important personalities treating the cause of the environment as their own. Economic factors seldom influence the activities of civil associations because they are supporting a value system that can hardly be expressed in material terms. The civil associations expect decisions to be made by individuals.

These societies are helpful in advancing the cause of the environment. This is their role. Even if their formulas are not comfortable for everyone, they help the cause by focusing attention on it. However, they must avoid creating illusions of power by their protests, illusions supported by illogical arguments and follow a script that states, Can we say no? “Yes.” Then no.”

The expectation is that we should have an opening toward the outside world, notice our immediate surroundings, let us know it, do something about it and protect it. We must help each other and the cause if we can accept its goals by harnessing our personal convictions and synergy and take advantage of a team spirit. Such behaviour could have important results; by setting a personal example, we may convince people of the correctness of our cause, ultimately resulting in the improvement of the environment.

Expectations of the Scientific Sphere

This issue is more complex than one would expect. In an ideal world,8 science should be value-neutral; it is, in most instances, result-centred, its explorations and discoveries always have limited goals. Scientific discoveries and innovations always mean new combinations and syntheses of knowledge, helped by thorough concentration in a given field. Its complexity is explained by the fact that during the evolution of modern science it has not always been considerate of the environment, and the necessity of absolute protection of environmental values has not been included in the axiomatic system of every field of science. The science of environmental protection first appeared only as a reaction to the harm caused by the “evolution” of general science, as the result of the unsupportable damage done to the environment. It was an independent area of research and only later did it spread to every scientific field. This may appear as the consequence of the exchange of information of environmental values for the sake of research but such an approach would lead to moralizing. Let us examine the way general science may become part of the cause of the environment.

The task of science is the exploration and description of environmental values, and the communication of these values. Such activities are basically informative; ideally, they develop and increase consciousness of the environment and the “green” value system.9

The scientific sphere does not expect anything from the individual, except that he should listen to his common sense and do not reject the offer of help. Today, almost every field of science is involved in one way or another with issues of environmental protection.

The Expectations of Economic Leadership

From the point of view of environmental protection, regardless of the objects of commerce and services (no matter what they sell), they expect us to turn our attention to products that protect the environment. This demand will eventually move supplies in this direction. However, we had reached a point at which demand is increasingly the result of the classic influence of advertisements. Environmental protection has become the fashion; it follows modern marketing practices and business innovations, and it is differentiated from mass products only by its novelty; it makes differentiation in status possible, because only a few can afford to follow its course. According to current fashions, the person who is capable to judge what sort of consumption and health hazard is represented by the goods he buys, is a wealthy one. The environmental value is included in the judgment of quality. There are a few people who enjoy privileges of their personal situation. They are not influenced by advertisements and their personal interests induce them to make decisions based on natural laws. In developed societies these people – who do not even possess a TV set – are considered to be poor.

The expectations of participants in economic life are not necessarily based on personal interests, but on the interests of their own environment. However, this, by itself, is not an objective value. The social judgment of the participants in economic life is biased. Yet, we are also part of their sphere of life since everyone participates in economics to a smaller or greater extent, which means that we have to make judgments by ourselves. In such a situation moderation should be a value and it should be practiced in economic life. However, understanding the damage done to the environment and to economic life in general is as yet undeveloped and it is disproportionate to the facts. The leaders of industry are often called to account in the courts much easier – and they can expect more serious penalties – when they tumbled with the balance sheets of their companies, than if they harmed the environment.

The Individual’s Expectations of His Own- and Others’ Behaviour

“Self control” cannot be exercised over others. The responsibility is ours alone. We make decisions and act accordingly. It is a mistaken belief that expects the solution of the problems of the defence of the environment only by others (by the state, by government, by science, economic conditions and by our neighbours). We must look around us and define our tasks in order to improve the situation. It is enough if we keep the tasks in mind and occasionally act upon them.

The Role of Families; the “Model”

There is a decisive influence in caring about the environment in the knowledge, provided by and practiced on the level of individual skills. These skills must be acquired very early in life, beginning almost in the cradle. Examples observed at home determine later behaviour patterns and customs during the individual’s entire life span. Children may also carry home correct behaviour patterns and they may insert learned environmental values into the value system of their families.

The family is the number one organization for the protection of the environment. This is the smallest and most effective unit in which environmental protection is realized in a practical way. In the developed countries, where the environment is not in conflict with living conditions, the family is in a relatively easy situation, since it is based on traditions and responsibilities.10 Therefore, family traditions based on natural laws in the developed countries (the transmission of customs) and responsibilities (relations of dependency) exclude – in the optimal case – the primacy and absolute supremacy of short-range individual interests.

The Role of Ratios

A value system determines the rank of values – the rank of characteristics of quality – while ratios determined quantitative characteristics by means of comparisons and relativity. There is a need to develop one’s sense of proportions because by its help, we may organize previous knowledge and experiences about our understanding of the environment. The understanding of proportionality and of ratios help us in our orientation throughout our lives, from participating in traffic to understanding social hierarchies. The outcome of the acquisition of the sense of proportion is a balanced existence. Everybody attempts to achieve a balanced existence based on a personal value system and a sense of proportions. This provides for a sense of happiness through positive feedbacks. A sense of proportions is also an accompaniment for life, similarly to a sense of values. However, in contrast to the sense of values, a sense of proportions is a constantly changing process. With the development of our sense of proportions, we are capable of understanding processes that go beyond the limits of our own physical-experiential knowledge. This process enables us to weigh and understand the consequences of our actions even before we had taken them. This also enables us to estimate the quantitative results of our decisions before committing ourselves to action. The two personal qualities, namely, the stability and development of a sense of proportions and value systems comprise the absolute value of wisdom.

We can also determine what is good for us personally and how good it is, by the help of our sense of proportions. We can also observe the damages our action causes for the environment. In the course of our daily compromises, internal and external interests are being reconciled.11 A correct sense of proportions provides the basis for sustainable developments, for production that can be sustained by existing resources.12 The basic condition for environmental protection and sustainable development is the manifestation of a sense of values and of proportions. In other words, it is wisdom.



Environment is a subjective category. The living and lifeless environment of mankind are relative concepts, their condition depends on humanity itself. The thinking of human beings is based on their personal value systems. We behave and act according to this system. Actions are in mutual relations with the environment. Such mutuality may be of negative, positive and neutral influence on nature. The conditions of the environment are deteriorating. Therefore, we must make decisions based on neutral or advantageous results for the environment. Such decisions are always made by individuals. Individuals act according to their decisions. The conditions of the environment will improve as a result of the general decisions of individuals.




A joint conference by the Austrian and Hungarian partners was held in the Jacobin room of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (MTA) April 17, 2002, with the following presentations; Prof. Dr. Sándor Kerekes, “Strategic Research of the MTA; Social Recognition of Environmental Policies;” Professor Dr. Stefan Schleicher, “From Environmental Policies to Sustainable Development; Lessons of the Austrian Experience;” Katalin Hargitai, “The 6th Environmental Action Plan and NGO Involvement;" Prof. Dr. Gyula Bándi, “Implementing the Requirements of Environmental Registration;” Dr. István Csepregi, ‘Administrative Implementation;" Dr. Elisabeth Freytag, “EU-coordination in Austria.”


Questions that formed the basis of discussions included; “What is your opinion about the grounding of laymen in environmental protection?” “What sort of conditions exist for the activities of associations for environmental protection?” “What are your relations with civil societies of environmental protection?” “What is your opinion about the political participation of the greens?” The following persons responded to our questions; Andrea Elek (OKT), Sándor Kerekes, (BKÉ), György Maár (Pyrus-Rumpold LTD), Éva Csobod and László Perneczky, (Central- and East European Center for Environmental Protection), Elisabeth Freytag (Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Environment and Water Management, EU Affairs (environment) of Austria, Peter Jordan (ÖOSI), Wolfgang Staber (Montanuniversitat Leoben), Éva Glawischnig (Die Grünen).


Akadémiai Kislexikon


Roger Baker, Ecological Psychology, 1968.


Akadémiai Kislexikon


See Dr. Gyula Bándi, Környezetvédelmi kézikönyv (Handbook of Environmental Protection) (Budapest, KJK, 1995.)


REC: Problems, Progress and Possibilities (Szentendre, 1997).


Bill Onasch, “Labor, Oil and the Environment,” (Internet, 2001).


Ferenc Glatz, Tudománypolitikai reformról, Akadémiáról, (Budapest, 2002).


A. Taylor and W. Preiser, “The Home, School and Neighborhood as Mini-Environments,” (Internet, 1996).


Daryl Reed, Ethics and Economics. Reference Book, 1994.