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Earth Community Organization (ECO)
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Institute of Geography
Slovak Academy of Sciences
for Discussion Roundtables 1, 3, 4, 7, 22, 25, 26, 28, 36, and 40
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The availability and use of indicators for monitoring developmental trends have become increasingly important in the policy making process. Indicators are essential for monitoring changes and providing information about possible policies and other measures for changing behavioural patterns towards a more sustainable way of living. To provide information on sustainable/unsustainable development, indicators identifying patterns which endanger human - environment interactions need to be developed. One of the primary purposes of research work is to make indicators of sustainable development accessible to decision-makers. Apart from objective indicators of sustainable development, subjective (behavioural) indicators should play a very important role in the decision-making process on the path towards sustainability in particular environments.
Sustainable development is a complex subject which has provoked a considerable amount of academic and public debate over its definition and measurement. One of the attempts to solve the problem of measurement could be analogous to the research about quality of life. Cutter (1985) suggested that studies of quality of life should incorporate so-called "objective" and "subjective" indicators on a number of different dimensions. These dimensions encompassed features not only related to the physical environment, but also to the social environment and to the public perception.
Within the social, economic, cultural and physical environment, each dimension of sustainable development could be measured "objectively" or could be based on a "subjective" evaluation reflecting the population´s "self-image of sustainable development/ living".
We can identify several types of perceptual elements which should be incorporated in the assessment of sustainable development/living: subjective evaluation of different aspects of development, place images, and perceptual evaluation of "objective" indicators.
Subjective evaluation of development / living (or self-image)
This is an approach adopted by behavioural analysts who have sought to elicit from sample populations the "self-image" of development / living. Well-being - including stress, life satisfaction, and personal happiness is an important dimension in assessing the way of living in different places.
This indicator relates to the assessment of the overall quality of development/living of a place, and is based on individual perceptions of the place. The study of place image was formalised in the field of perceived environmental quality indices (PEQI) research, and with the development of subjective assessment of specific locations by groups of people (Rogerson, R.J. et al., 1989)
The perceptual evaluation of indicators
This is an approach inspired by the need for weighting the system to attach importance to specific physical, social and economic characteristics of sustainable/unsustainable development/living. The main approach which can be used to derive weightings is to consider "expert opinion as a means of determining the list of criteria and their significance.
Lower Morava river region (West Slovakia), Tatras region (North Slovakia), and Eastern Carpathians region (Northeast Slovakia) as the case studies
Reflections about the sustainable development in three regions studied in Slovakia (Lower Morava river region - West Slovakia, Tatras region - North Slovakia, and the Eastern Carpathians region - Northeast Slovakia) - territories with important natural-landscape and cultural landscape values (two of them are Biosphere Reserves) led us to analyse the sustainable development potential on the basis of subjective indicators.
The common characteristics of 3 analysed regions were as follows: very important natural-landscape and cultural landscape values of the territory, border position and geographical marginality within the state territory. The differences between regions were in the population dynamics, age structure, homogeneity from the ethnic and religious point of view, rate of unemployment, economic prosperity and quality of the infrastructure, Subjective indicators of sustainable development applicable to the regional decision making process (for example applicable to the management of Biosphere Reserves) became an important part in analysing the potential for sustainable development on the basis of subjective estimates by its population (Huba and Ira, 1998). We have chosen the method of questionnaire, as it reliably supplies information for desegregated analysis. The basic set consisted of the inhabitants of the three above mentioned regions. The respondents were people older than 15. The selected set was gathered by a quota selection with randomisation at the final step. Aside from the basic structural characteristics (sex, age), territorial proportionality (rate of population in a single community) was included into the control variables. The questions were focused on perception of environmental problems of the particular community, evaluation of the perceptions evoked by the community's environment, estimation of the social infrastructure accessibility and quality, and relations among the community's inhabitants. A portion of the questions were oriented to evaluating the willingness of inhabitants to contribute to the sustainable development of their community. The final part of the questionnaire concentrated on the opinion of the programme of economically, socially and environmentally balanced (i.e. sustainable) development of the community.
Perception of environmental problems and subjective estimates of the life quality and the potential for sustainable development in the Tatras
Almost half of the inhabitants (47,0%) considered the quality of environment in their community to be good or very good. Only 10,7% of the respondents estimated it bad or very bad.
Out of the 12 chosen problems, the respondents of the Tatras region estimated damage of the forest growth (50,3%) to be most serious (in the Tatras settlements even 75,2%). According to the respondents, the impaired or neglected housing (35,2%), inadequate storage of waste (43,1%), endangerment of wildlife (33,2% , in the Tatras settlements even 60,6%), air pollution (30,2%) and unpleasant image of settlements (30,0%) were included among other serious environmental problems. Respondents from the Tatras region think that surface water pollution, inadequate storage of waste, and damage of the forest growth need to be addressed as high priority issues.
According to respondents, the inhabitants themselves (69,8%) and motor transport, (41,2%, in the Tatras settlements even 61,5%), were tagged as the most important agents of environmental deterioration.
In the opinion of the respondents from the whole region studied the development in environmental protection is improving (35,7%) rather than deteriorating (23,1%). In the settlements of the western sub-region, the rate is 45,2%: 12,3%. Analysis of the means of transportation to work or school shows a relatively favourable structure from the point of view of sustainable development (35,5% on foot and 29,1% by public transport).
Analysis of the satisfaction with life conditions in the community shows that less than three fifths (59,3%) of the respondents were satisfied or very satisfied with the availability of food shopping, and 46,7% of the respondents were satisfied with the availability of shopping in drug stores. Possibilities of trade/industrial item shopping were not as favourable. More than half of the respondents expressed satisfaction with the quality of medical care (51,9%), recreation possibilities (53,9%), availability of transport to centre of state administration (54,7%) and with transport availability to the nearest city (54,1%).
The preconditions for a positive course of development in the community are made up by self-government. According to 9,9 % of the respondents the self-governments in communities are very active. Almost 47 % of those questioned evaluate self-governments as not active enough or even passive (in Sub-Tatras west only 38,1%).
None of the communities (church communities - 19,2%, environmental NGOs - 20,1%, political parties and movements - 3,6 %) participates in improving quality of life in the community in any significant manner.
The analysis of answers to the question "What would you be willing to do in/for improving of the environment and sustainable development of your community?" More than two thirds of those questioned (68,4%, in the Tatras settlements even 78%) would separate the house waste and 58,8 % would readily participate in events that help to improve the state of the environment. More than one third of the respondents were willing to walk or ride bikes, save electric energy, insulate their houses or flats, change heating system to more environment friendly system and save drinking water. For the purpose of analysing the potential possibilities for sustainable development, the final part of the questionnaire requested opinion concerning the possible contents of an economically, socially and environmentally balanced programme for the community and entire region. According to nearly four fifths of the respondents (in the Tatras settlements even 95,4%), the programme should contain activities aimed at preservation of natural values. More than two thirds of the respondents consider the improvement of general environmental quality, improvement and building up of the service trades industries, and more efficient utilisation of energy and raw materials to be an important part of a development programme. More than one half would support projects aimed at creation of new jobs, improvement and building up new shopping facilities, improvement and building up the facilities for leisure and recreation, safeguarding and renewal housing, improving the quality of the social environment, and projects concentrated on environmentally friendly forest management and economical water source utilisation.
Subjective indicators characterising environmental perception, consumption patterns, life quality and sustainable living/development in the Eastern Carpathians
In spite of the fact that the respondents live in a protected landscape, less than 1/10 (about 15% in BR) of them consider the quality of environment in the community very good. More than half of them estimate the quality as good. Negative estimates of environmental quality were found in a small portion of those questioned (bad – 7.6% , very bad – 1.3%).
The respondents estimate the impaired or neglected housing pool (54.4%), damaged forest growths (45.6% and 31.1% in BR), and surface water pollution (36.1%) as the most serious environmental problems. Unscrupulous wood extraction in recent years has resulted in the damage of the growths of forests, as expressed by some more detailed opinions provided by respondents. The inhabitants themselves (47%), and the wood-working plant (14%), were tagged as the most important agents of environmental deterioration.
Considering the opinion of the representative sample of the local population, the highest priority should be assigned to the corrections of the damage caused to the forest, impaired or neglected housing, and the problem of incorrect waste management. Analysis of the satisfaction with life conditions in the communities shows that more three fifths (67.1%) of the respondents were satisfied or very satisfied with the availability of food shopping, and 46.9% of the respondents were satisfied or very satisfied with the availability of shopping in drug stores. Possibilities of trade/industrial item shopping (36.7%) and satisfaction with the quality of medical care (36.7%) were not as favourable. A relatively low percentage of respondents expressed satisfaction with the quality of recreation possibilities (17.8%), quality and accessibility of cultural facilities (11.4%). The lowest rate of satisfaction within life conditions in communities was ascribed to job opportunities (6.9%).
Consumption patterns are very closely related to the sustainable / unsustainable way of living. According to the subjective evaluation of the representative sample of the Eastern Carpathian population, meat and fat consumption has decreased in the last 5 years (1991-1996), the consumption of fresh fruits and vegetable has increased. With the quoted positive trends, an increased cigarettes and alcohol consumption contrasts. Also, water and energy consumption went up, the same as long-term consumed objects and the amount of house waste increased.
According to 51.6% of the respondents, the region's population attributes little importance to environmental problems and 17% even no importance whatsoever. The respondents' estimates of their willingness to participate in eventual improvements of environmental quality and sustainable development of the community were very interesting. More than 1/2 of the respondents were willing, in the case of a threat to the environment, to bring it to the attention of responsible authorities, and 53.8% of them would readily participate in events that would help to improve the state of environment. More than 53% of those questioned are willing to separate house waste, and almost one third is prepared to save electric energy. Only one fifth is ready to economise on water, one twentieth is willing to prefer public transport, 8.9% is willing to insulate their houses, and less than 7% of respondents are ready to pay an increased tax destined to the conservation of environment.
In the final part of the questionnaire, the respondents were required to express their opinion concerning the contents of the economically, socially, and environmentally balanced programme, sustainable development of the community and entire region. According a majority of the respondents (95 %), the programme should contain activities aimed at the creation of new jobs, and three fifths would include projects for improvement of transport. More than 50% of the respondents would support projects of improvement, eventually the building of amenities for leisure and recreation, and projects for the improvement of environmental quality. Projects offering new or improved shopping facilities would be supported by more than a third of respondents. Relatively low support was given to projects centred on more efficient use of energy and raw materials (22.8%), projects of restructuring and improving of the use of agricultural land (15.3%), and economical water source use (26.6%).
Subjective estimates of potential for sustainable development in the Lower Morava river region
In spite of the fact that in the area studied, the natural and man made environment is not strongly affected by human activities, the environmental quality is not considered good. The respondents estimate the damaged forest growth (60.5%), surface water pollution and impaired or neglected housing (50.7%) as the most pressing environmental problems. According to the opinion of representative sample of the local population, the priority of the local government should be to correct the inadequately approached problems of waste management, surface and ground water pollution. The inhabitants themselves (76.6%) and transportation were tagged as the most important sources/agents of environmental deterioration.
In light of the opinion of more than one third of the respondents, care for the environment has improved during recent years.
Transportation is one of the most important components affecting life quality of the inhabitants. The analysis of modes of transportation shows a relatively good structure from the point of view of sustainability.
Estimates of willingness to participate in the improvement of environmental quality and sustainable development activities has been summarised as follows: more than one half of the respondents were willing to walk or bike instead of drive a car (64.9%), separate domestic waste (58.7%), participate in events that help to improve the state of the environment, to conserve energy (51.5%), water (51.5%), and alert responsible authorities in case of threats to the environment (50.4%).
In order to collect the information for a programme of economically, socio-culturally and environmentally balanced (i.e. sustainable) development, the respondents were asked to express their opinion. A majority of them (more than four fifths) said that the programme should contain activities aimed at natural values preservation. More than two thirds would support programmes devoted to job creation, improvement and creation of new service facilities, environmentally friendly use of water resources, and more efficient use of energy and raw materials.
People in the regions studied have several alternatives for the future development of their regions. They may come-back to past tendencies (especially coming from the period 1948 - 1989), characterised by such approaches like political and economic centralisation on one hand, and depopulation, "desertification" of land, destruction of existing infrastructure, and over-exploitation of natural resources (mainly wood) on the other hand.
Another alternative is prolongation (continuation) of contemporary tendencies, which are represented by such signs as the lack of jobs, rising unemployment, marginalisation of remote localities and zones, underestimation of non-profit activities, and growth of consumer lifestyles and expectations.
An alternative, supported by the result of an analysis based on so-called objective and subjective indicators, is a "sustainable development alternative" (Huba and Ira, 1998a,b,c) characterised by:
- the preservation of natural and cultural values of the region with the support of new activities, relevant and adopted for the region,
- creation of new sustainable jobs in to the above mentioned activities,
- stabilisation of the rural population, measures that lead to improvement of the demographic structure, a return to adequate land utilisation, revitalisation of settlements and the whole region,
- assessment, re-definition as well as elimination of inadequate activities which contradict the key nature protection function of the region.
This alternative gives an opportunity to the planners and decision makers to understand the region as an important territory of Slovakia from the point of view of both natural and cultural values. Preconditions are in existence of protected areas and historical monuments, as well as in the preservation of traditions, traditional skills like handcrafts and folklore in the region.
The local population has a chance to use the boundary location for the development of cross-boundary co-operation in different fields. All planning and decision activities should result to the syntheses of environmental, economic and social dimensions of development.
The analysis of subjective indicators enables decision-makers to also define an alternative of sustainable development taking into account the population´s opinion. The possible alternative is characterised by the combination of natural and cultural values preservation (with the support of new environmentally friendly activities, relevant for the region), creation of new sustainable jobs in relationship to the above mentioned activities, stabilisation of the rural population, return to adequate land utilisation, revitalisation of settlements and the whole region and assessment, re-definition as well as elimination of inadequate activities which contradict the key nature protection function of the region.
The importance of all sustainability dimensions (environmental, economic, social, and cultural) in the policy decision making process is evident. Through the use of subjective (perceptual, behavioural) indicators we can identify the dimension of sustainable/unsustainable living (development) and better understand "geographical reality". Although this reality may only be partially perceived by individuals or groups of the population, it is nevertheless created by the actions of individuals as it is the space (environment) within which people live and work (Rogerson et al 1989). For planners and decision makers, understanding of parts of this reality, when placed in context, can help to ilustrate a fuller picture of both the whole of reality and the role played by parts within it (Johntson, 1980). Specific studies of elements of the reality through the perception of environmental quality, consumption patterns, evaluation of social infrastructure, expectations and ideas of developmental programmes can be brought together constructively in order to promote better development and sustainable living conditions. Subjective indicators are an important component in identifying reality as perceived by individuals or groups within the population and in selecting information for decision making to affect that reality.
Cutter, S. L. (1985): Rating Places: A Geographer´s View on Quality of Life. Association of American Geographers, Resource Publication in Geography, Washington, D.C.
Huba, M., Ira, V. (1998a) : Stratégia trvalo udržateľného rozvoja pre región Dolné Pomoravie. Sustainable Development Strategy for the Lower Morava river region /in Slovak/. GEF Biodiversity Protection Project, Bratislava
Huba, M., Ira, V. (1998b): Stratégia trvalo udržateľného rozvoja pre región Tatry. Sustainable Development Strategy for the Tatras region /in Slovak/. GEF Biodiversity Protection Project, Bratislava
Huba, M., Ira, V. (1998c): Stratégia trvalo udržateľného rozvoja pre región Východné Karpaty. Sustainable Development Strategy for the Eastern Carpathian region /in Slovak/. GEF Biodiversity Protection Project, Bratislava
Ira, V. (1996): Subjektívne indikátory trvalo udržateľného rozvoja/spôsobu života Subjective indicators of sustainable development/living /in Slovak/. In Izakovičová, Z. ed. Diskusia ku koncepcii trvalo udržateľného rozvoja. SNK SCOPE, Bratislava, pp.32-36
Johntson, R.J.(1980): Explanation in human geography. Transactions of the British Geographers: New Series 5, pp. 402-412
Rogerson, R.J., Findlay, A.M., Morris, A.S., Coombes, M.G. (1989): Indicators of Quality of life: some methodoogical issues. Environment and Planning A, 21, pp. 1655-1666
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