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Lecture 39

Lecture 39

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Published by Jaf Shah

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Published by: Jaf Shah on Sep 02, 2012
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Lecture 39: Environmental Beliefs
Slide 1
BELIEFSBeliefs are by definition the assumptions regarding relationships between two things.Thus the term environmental beliefs refers to people’s assumptions regarding causes andconsequences of environmental problems and what strategies are going to succeed inshort term and long term. It has been found that in polluted/contaminated environmentspeople suffer not only from the physical effect of pollutants/contaminants but they alsosuffer from various misconceptions and stigma (Swarnakar and Sharma, 2009).Study of beliefs is important for tworeasons:1.
People may hold ecological (pro-environmental) beliefs andundertake action to preventdestruction of naturalenvironment or they may hold ananthropocentric/instrumentalbelief that nature can beincessantly exploited for humanends. Some may hold a belief inbetween the two. The beliefsaffect their action and, therefore,in the study of environmentalaction it is important to studybelief systems.BOX 11.1: CONSEQUENCES OFARSENIC CONTAMINATIONThus, people with arsenic suffer fromstigma. Sometimes arsenic patients areidentified as leprosy patients and areostracized unkindly by society. The victimsare abandoned not only by larger societybut also by their relatives and familymembers. Children of arsenic patients arenot allowed to attend social and religiousfunctions as they are believed to haveinherited a serious problem (something likeleprosy) which might manifest anytime andmay be transferred to others. Thisphenomenon is similar to that observed incases of HIV positive people in variousparts of the country.(Quoted from Swarnakar and Sharma,2009)
Slide 2
In the risk areas where people suffer from the physical effects of environmentalhazards the effects are socio-culturally interpreted. It is found that socialstigmatization among the victims and discrimination against them can lead to extremeinstability in the social life and social harmony and social capital are eroded (Box11.1). People tend to neglect the health problem until and unless it manifests visiblyor becomes unbearable.SOURCES OF BELIEFSThus to protect the environment and also to save people from suffering the physical andcultural results of hazards it is important to change their belief systems which is not aneasy job. There are many sources of beliefs in general and environmental beliefs inparticular. They include:
Folk wisdom, religious texts and religious organizations
Media (newspapers, magazines, TV, radio, etc.)
International and internal migration, increasing mobility of population and pilgrimage
Market through advertisement, etc.
Political parties and leaders who set political agendas
Non-government organizations, community based organizations and other civilsociety actors
All of them will have to be used to reverse the process, i.e., to change theanthropocentric beliefs to pro-environmental beliefs.
Slide 3
Today in developing countries there is a great hunger for development and very littleenvironmental consciousness. Folk wisdom and traditions are reinterpreted to serve thegoals of capitalism. During the independence struggle and in the post-independenceperiod in India philosophers, leaders and intellectuals favoured synthesizing westernmaterialism and eastern philosophy. It is difficult to convince the people of India that inthe interest of survival of earth they must volunteer for the present low levels of consumption or surrender inessential needs when the developed countries (and also theelites in their own countries) have so much of wasteful consumption. Religion, themodern media, and political leaders are only promoting consumerism andcommodification; with little interest in sustainability of ecological process. The result isan anti-ecological belief system, maintained by social structure, capitalism, politicalleaders, and even religious leaders.In the above context a cynic may ask: what is the role of environmental consciousnessor beliefs when all major decisions are taken by the economic elite (in connivance withpolitical elite) and the ordinary citizens have virtually little role in saving environment.Change of beliefs and behaviours among the common people will be of littleconsequence unless it leads to mobilization of people to change the social structure of capitalism. Some people however think that the environment can be protected only whenpeople at large develop strong pro-ecological worldview leading to philosophy of spiritualism, equality and simplicity.

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