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IMPORTANCE OF ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION IN CONTEMPORARY CIVIL SOCIETY

 
Janos Krizan, Katarina Putnik , Masa Bukurov
University of Novi Sad, TEMPUS center, Trg Dositeja Obradovica 6, 21000 Novi Sad, Yugoslavia
 
 

Abstract

Today’s urban and highly industrialized societies are faced with maybe the biggest problem so far--the self-destruction of the planet.  Overly intensified economic development and the contemporary way of life has led to the growing pollution of land, water, and air.  There is less accessible drinking water, as well as there are more food products that are polluted with various chemical additives.

Social pollution in its core is just as important a problem as the physical pollution.  People today, are faced with a multitude of half-truths and useless information that are being cramped into their heads by the mass media.

Pathologic inclinations of individuals in the elemental society bring forth social evils, which are the more expressive and the more massive, the more numerous are such individuals and the less organized and more tolerant of its own weakening the community.

Socio - historical inheritance and the more recent socio-political organization makes society pass through different forms of political, nationalistic,  economical crises as well as crises of morality of conscience.

The role of the intelligentsia in contemporary civil society is not to serve the powers to be, but to help people understand the society they live in and to focus their attention toward solving the essential problems.
 
 

Introduction

The condition that environment finds itself nowadays is greatly caused by political and social, as well as economic factors which go back several centuries.  Our need to better the way of life has always been represented by the improvement of our production skills which led to several consecutive industrial revolutions.  Today, when we  are experiencing the third  wave of technological change, people are playing a major part in managing processes of mass production which main goal is to reduce the cost whenever that is possible.  The mass production itself causes a spacious concentration of raw materials, machines, products, work force as well as waste, all of these being  necessary consequences of contemporary society, which unless controlled can seriously damage its survival.  That is why the problem of environmental protection in future must be dealt with by combining  the political and socio-economic factors.  We must also have in mind that many of the negative effects on the environment become visible only after a period of time.  This phenomenon, known as the "ecological time bomb", might call back on the humanity and cause problems of catastrophic proportions.  Therefore, the society must proceed cautiously and in a tendency of sustainable development so as to be able to prevent future disasters.  In that context, the economic growth must not be stopped but rerouted in order to be ecologically the least damaging.
 
 

General thoughts

Relations in space are reflection of those in society and interaction of nature and society. Human environment is not a mere place, but a dynamic complex in which all the processes permeate one another [4].

The system life environment is the most voluminous and the most complex system on the Earth, since it is made up of natural and anthropogenous components. The number of inhabitants is on the constant increase on our planet. People wish to live better and better. Hence, the volume of utilization of natural and anthropogenous resources on the Earth is constantly growing, but also greater and greater is the danger of imperiling the basic conditions of living on it (pollution of air, water, soil, interhuman relations) [5].

Environmental pollution becomes a problem when man, because of the limited knowledge of complex interactions and processes which occur in the environment, endangers the natural processes and the very life on the ground, atmosphere or hydrosphere itself.

The level of knowledge and scientific findings which has been accumulated since the "homo sapiens" times made it possible for people to manage the nature more closely now than it had ever been possible before.  The fundamental parts which  the environment consists of, and which are globally accepted are the following:

1. hydrosphere: water resources (ground and underground waters, fresh waters, the sea, ice and vapor)
2. air: atmosphere and stratosphere (with all the elements and compounds that are important-oxygen, ozone, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, etc.)
3. lytosphere: ground and minerals
4. biosphere: forests, ecosystems (especially sensitive), biodiversity and natural heritage
5. man-made values: habitats, industry, cultural heritage, waste, institutions, economy, law, science and technology, education
6. other[3].
 People, being this civilized and intellectually developed, have the power to globally manage the complex life on Earth by simplifying the system and breaking it down to fundamentals, and by doing it get closer to actually controlling life on Earth.

The growing need to preserve and better the environment for future generations give a special meaning to the environmental protection strategy.  The acceptable choices depend, among the rest, on the specific conditions that are dictated by the society itself.

Therefore, apart from existing professional literature, self-sufficient institutions must be established which will monitor ecological processes and develop methods of protection that are in sink with regional conditions.

Aiming for the global solution of the environmental protection problem, a document was signed in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where the world conference on environmental protection was held in 1992., which resulted in a summary called "Agenda 21"

Final document of Rio conference agenda 21 is a blueprint on how to make development socially, economically and environmentally sustainable. It explains that population, consumption, and technology are the primary driving forces of environmental change.  It lays out what needs to be done to reduce wasteful and inefficient consumption patterns in some parts of the world, while encouraging increased but sustainable development in others.  It offers policies and programs to achieve a sustainable balance between consumption, population and Earth's life supporting capacity. Agenda 21 provides options for combating the degradation of the land, air, and water, conserving forests and diversity of spices of life.  It deals with poverty and excessive consumption, health and education, cities and farmers. Polluter should, in principle, bear the cost of pollution.  Pollution is not a right, it is a privilege. Governments should reduce or eliminate subsidies that are not consistent with sustainable development.  Industrialized countries have realized that they have a greater role in cleaning up the environment than poor nations, which produce relatively less pollution. Also, richer nations promised more funding to help other nations develop in ways that lower environmental impacts. It calls on governments to adopt national strategies for sustainable development.  Only a global partnership will ensure that all nations will have a safer and more prosperous future.

Economic activity cannot proceed under the banner of "business as usual" any longer.  It is no longer tenable to make economic growth, as conventionally perceived and measured, the unquestioned objective of an economic development policy.  The old concept of growth which we designate "throughout growth" with its reliance on an ever increasing throughout of energy and resources cannot be sustained, and must yield to an imaginative pursuit of economic ends that are less resource intensive.  Sustainable development makes future political agenda imperative.  This is why exceptional political wisdom and leadership on the global, regional and national scales are so urgently required [1].
 

 Aspects of physical protection of the environment in contemporary civil society

Environment degradation is a phenomenon where the nature and the society closely interweave [2].  It is well acknowledged that man’s perpetual inclination toward bettering the quality of life has led the society to go through different changes as well as it has caused the exponential growth of the population, and the growth of the environmental pollution.  The boundaries of the polluted environment are spreading gradually with the growing urbanization and getting new dimensions in space [7].  Paradoxically, the development of medical science keeps introducing the growing number of unknown diseases which directly come from people being exposed to new toxic agents that are in fact by-products of better-life-consumer-oriented society.

Contemporary civil society, being free and open to everyone, has an obligation to deal with the environmental problem.  It has to acknowledge that this problem threatens its existence and the existence of the humanity on the whole.  In that sense the involvement of all the subjects of the society is imperative.

The role of the family, it being one of the pillars of the society, is extremely important.  Only a healthy and reasonable way of living and dealing with the environment guaranties a solution to the problem.

The role of the religion, for example, is to communicate the problem to the people and to remind them that love toward themselves and their loved ones also involve the love toward the planet they live on.  That way of thinking and acting upon it is supposed to ensure people of having a quiet, healthy and long life.

Continuing in the same sense, the role of science and scientists is multiple.  Apart from improving the technology which reduces environmental pollution it has an obligation to educate both the coming generations and the older ones.  The mass media as well as the numerous cultural gatherings can play a major part in supporting this idea.

Since pollution is so closely related with the industrial activities methods for protecting the environment (ground, water, air) from the industrial pollution should be improved and implemented. The best way to decrease or completely eliminate pollution is to switch from old processes to new non-polluting ones.  This measure is rarely cost-effective therefore processes that reduce pollution to the acceptable level must be introduced.  Generally speaking, methods that are used to protect the environment add to the cost of production which offsets to the consumer society.

It is extremely difficult to put a price on what society pays for environmental pollution.  If one should try to do that, the price should include the following: health of the people in the community, occupational health, keeping in tact property and esthetic values.  Therefore, it is reasonable to expect the society to insist upon those that pollute to bare the complete and utter responsibility for their actions as well as to pay the price.

The strength of law and its enforcement agencies are vital for the preservation of health of the people and the environment.  Laws have to be clearly defined and strict for those who break them.  They have to be enforced without exception.  It is common, however, that laws that regulate the amount of toxic agents allowed to be emitted are not clearly defined, that inspections are not regular, that polluters know in advance when the inspection is due, and that measures (fines) against them are mild--almost symbolic.  It is often less costly for a polluter to pay the fine than to invest into a long-term non-polluting technological process.  Consciousness in the business world, globally speaking, has not yet reached the level of the environmental aberrance and is usually connected with the cost-benefit principle.  Narowmindness and selfishness must not be tolerated when dealing with environmental problems since the future of mankind is at stake.

It has to be acknowledged that state measures are necessary to preserve the environment, but that they also potentially change social, political and economic establishments.  It is not uncommon that those measures have to be implicated in a life of an individual so as to ensure the above mentioned preservation.

The hypocrisy of highly industrialized and democratic civil societies is also quite noticeable.  Driven by the actions of their ecological societies they solve the problem of disposing the toxic and radioactive waste by exporting it to underdeveloped and mainly non-democratic countries.  These actions could be categorized as indirect pollution.  In the mean time, there is a growing need for healthy foods that come exactly from those underdeveloped countries mentioned above.  The reason they are involved is that they have not had the opportunity to pollute their environment enough with manure, pesticides, insecticides, etc.  Contemporary civil society should not be hypocritical in that sense but have in mind the global welfare of this planet.  It is well known that water as well as air currents transport the pollution.  Huge water and air fronts, saturated with different toxic agents travel from one end of this planet to the other making the environmental problem a global one.  The currents mentioned do not know any boundaries that exist between continents or nations.  This might even be a blessing since it will eventually unite humanity around the common cause--survival of our mother Earth.

There are other aspects of physical protection, organization and implementation wise, that should be considered, but this paper will refrain from discussing them and concentrate instead on the aspects of social pollution.
 
 

Aspects of protecting the environment from social pollution in contemporary civil society

It is much harder to deal with the pollution that has affected people than the one of water, land and air.  Polluted man contaminates polluted space and back again.  This cause-effect circle leads to a complete pollution and a general degradation of both man and nature.

Social pollution problem is as old as mankind itself.  However, it has never been as pronounced as today.  There has never been a wider range of social polluters and they have never had mightier ally than the mass media is nowadays.  Society in general tends to succumb to the skillfully made add that would sell anything and everything, often of suspicious values.

Social polluters target the masses, and discreetly but consistently impose on them their system of values.  They ignore as well as negate the basic values of a society.

Contemporary civil society would have to provide and encourage the freedom of all its subjects, but would also have to keep it under control with clearly defined rules and regulations within the law.  It is imperative for it to give its subjects the autonomy as long as their actions do not "endanger the integrity, pace, and security of other members of the community".  Those groups or individuals that brake the above rule should be adequately sanctioned since it would be the only way of preserving the society itself.

The most important value of the contemporary society should definitely be nurturing the spirit of tolerance and honoring wishes, rights and inclinations of every group or individual.  This somewhat idealistic concept of a community is hard to obtain in real life but should be, never the less, tried  for since it will most certainly lead toward satisfying the needs of a majority.

Religion has been, in the past, the biggest social polluter.  It suppressed the free thought which threatened to intervene with its dominant place in society.  Zealously, with much shouting, they drove their flock over their plank-bridge; as if there were but one little plank-bridge to the future [6].  The role of religion in contemporary society should be to guide the people toward a life of togetherness and symbiosis with mutual respect between different communities.

Today’s family values have also been undermined by different social polluters that threatened to cut the family ties.  Members of this little community spend less and less time  together.   They  gather  around only in a crisis and even  then they act like a group  of  strangers.  It is often seen  that people choose to believe some popular slogan developed for the masses rather than their own flash and blood.  The increasing divorce rate, juvenile delinquency, murders, and suicides are all facts that speak in favor of the deteriorating trend of the family in a contemporary civil society.   Without stable and secure relationships within a family it is impossible to build a stable and secure society.  Therefore, the battle for family and against social polluters that affect it must be one of society’s major goals.

Art as well as  artists  are also in a position where they can offset "pollution" onto the masses. What endangers  the "social health" is the fact that the youngest and the weakest members  of the community get caught in it by idolizing certain people. Too much idolizing can prolong even prevent the development of a free thinking person. Contemporary civil society should find a way to finance those works of art that would strip down social phenomenon  to basics and present them the way they are, so that both physical and social health of the environment could be preserved.

Intellectuals are the strength  of the society and some of them, as some artists too, do not act as independent subjects but often fall to the economic pressures of social pollution.  It is often seen that an intellectual would, through his work, support numerous half-truths and all  for his personal gain. Also,  educational programs in schools are often inadequate and the  way of evaluating students tends to be subjective. Children get thrown right  into the lion’s  den at an early age and have no choice but to deal with all the irregularities within the society. That is why  the cases of cutting classes become  more and more common.  It is away of rebellion against the unfair treatment children get from  grown-ups (teachers, parents, society on the whole). Society   must realize the seriousness of the problem and find  an adequate solution to it, for this early age is when our conscience about   the society we live in starts to form. Working with younger generations  will lay the foundations for  the future.  In the tree of the future we build our nest [6].  Therefore, the intellectuals must take  it  upon themselves to  be  the pillars of the society, to carry out the work of  free thought, humane  ideas and scientific  truths.
 
 

Conclusions

The  environmental pollution process is the one that keeps intensifying and cannot be  stopped, but upon which it can be conscientiously acted. Our  goal  must be to ensure  the best  protection possible by providing it  for  all  the subjects in today’s society as well as for  the whole planet.  In order for  this to come to  life, it is necessary for all  the subjects to  cooperate (family,  religion, science, etc.).

Clearly  defined laws and regulations  that  treat everyone equally  will  draw  the course of action  for the contemporary  society.

Caring for our  environment is not a question of being fashionable. Actions for its preservation must not be spontaneous, nor inconsistent, but organized and law abiding, well defined, constant and global.
 
 

Bibliography

1. Agenda 21. Proceedings of the United Nations conference, June 3-14, 1992, Rio de Jeneiro, Brazil
 
2. Bricelj, Mitja. 1992. Geography and Environmental Protection. Serbian Geographic Society, vol.69., Belgrade, Yugoslavia, p.41-45.
 
3. Economic institute Belgrade and TEMPUS center University of Novi Sad. 1996. Improving the Institutional Organization in the Field of Environmental Protection in Yugoslavia. Working report, p.14-15.
 
4. Friganovic, Mladen.1992. The powers and the weaknesses of Science in Environmental Preservation, Serbian Geographic Society, vol.69., Belgrade, Yugoslavia, p.32-35.
 
5. Ilic, Jovan. 1990. Ecological Processes and Geography. Serbian Geographic Society, vol.69., Belgrade, Yugoslavia, p.110-116.
 
6. Nietzsche, Friedrich, W. 1950. Thus Spake Zarathustra. J. M. Dent and Sons LTD., Aldine House Bedford St., London.
 
7. Ravbar, Marjan. 1990. Ecological Aspects of the Urbanization Process. Serbian Geographic Society, vol.69., Belgrade, Yugoslavia, p.76-80.
 
 
 
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