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Integrating social perception of nature with economic development

Domenii publicaţii > Ştiinţe sociale + Tipuri publicaţii > Articol în volumul unei conferinţe

Autori: Ciumasu IM, Lupu A, Costica N, Netedu A, Stratu A, Miftode V, Stefan N

Editorial: ISEE 2008: Applying Ecological Economics for Social and Environmental Sustainability (ISEE), 7-11.08.2008, Nairobi, Talk, section VII-7.4 - Integrated modelling approaches, 2008.


The transition to sustainability in developing countries has to take into account their local need for development and local socio-cultural context. If sustainability-specific practices are being imposed, they can be rejected by citizens (Ciumasu and Costica, 2008). Socio-cultural perceptions have a critical function on the definition of natural capital and must therefore be corroborated with ecological and economical issues (Chiesura and De Groot, 2002). Here we present a study on social perceptions in a peri-urban area with lakes and forests in Romania, and point out to its importance for the future programs of education for sustainable development.
Our survey on the social perceptions of persons living in the study area show that people see it as a leisure area (75%), natural area (12%), tourist area (4%), polluted area (3%), and others (4%). The locals recognise the natural potential for tourism, and they pointed out to waters and forests as main services. However, they largely see the area as a free time and leisure interest only for locals and less an economic interest. Asked why they think tourism is not of interest in the area, locals pointed out to the degradation of the waters (pollution), and the lack of infrastructure and investments. What is interesting is that many respondents were not able to justify there answers. This suggests a need for a program of environmental education that would better explain the potential of the area and the ways this potential can be exploited. Among other negative aspects is lack of appropriate interest from the local authorities. This means that local authorities also need to be targeted by the future programs of environmental education, in deed education for sustainable development.
Another interesting aspect is that the respondents appear to be split in two: those accusing pollution and those rather not bothered by it (or preferring to ignore it). This points out to the fact that much pollution is produced by inappropriate behaviour (e.g., leaving garbage behind). A lack of awareness of the need to preserve the area is identifiable. Regarding how many the respondents consider themselves well informed on the subject, 27% appear very well or well informed and 72% poorly or very poorly. Men appear to estimate themselves better informed (37 %) than women (17%). Any future information and educational program should try to take this into account, eventually design gender-tailored approaches. Asked why they think the area is nor exploited at its potential, they point out to several causes: the lack of interest from the part of authorities (29%), lack of money (21%), pollution (13%), lack of citizen awareness (10%), bad management (7%), and insufficient marketing (2%). This situation points out to a lack of appropriate policies despite the expectations of the local citizens. Local authorities should not be afraid that environmental policies will hurt economic development. On the contrary, environmental regulation can enhance prospects for economic growth via people’s higher sense of participation and need for efficiency and education (Ricci, 2007).
In our case citizens have their own spectrum of proposed approaches: ecological recovery (52 %), good management (17%), investment (14%), better infrastructure (3%), others (9%) and no answer 5%). Most respondents are optimistic, with optimism increasing with the time horizon. The people in the area generally know about ecological products (79%) and they prefer them: to buy food directly from local producers than from supermarkets, and most of them (53%) are wiling to pay 25% more for ecological products. These insights are very important in that it hints to potential ways of solving economy-environment conflicts (Kosoy et al., 2006) and provides precious information on what is acceptable for citizens.
Natural resources are quite well known among the citizens in the study area, particularly wild medicinal plants, wild food plants, but also natural insecticides and other traditional domestic uses. Cultural links with elements from the natural environment are also strong, like person names inspired by flowers, legends with pedagogic value, ornaments. This is a rich cultural background which will need to be taken into account and used by future programs and strategies of ecological education.
This heritage should not be lost, because it will ease the transition to sustainability. Many ecosystem goods and services are known as traditional and cultural knowledge. Ethnobotany in particular represents many generation time knowledge of the relationships between humans and plants, which can have commercial and conservation applications (Sheldon and Balick, 1995). We propose that the balance between the two can be reached by corroborating ethnobotany with social and cultural perceptions upon environment and sustainability issues, and with education for sustainability.
Further, we discuss how these can be corroborated with other disciplinary knowledge to produce scenarios of sustainable and unsustainable development. We show that sciences (natural sciences, sociological sciences and economic sciences) must rely on societal perceptions and expectation in their quest for sustainability solutions. In this sense, social and cultural perceptions of the natural environment are the start line for what has been called the new social contract for science and scientists (Lubchenco, 1998).

Chiesura, A., De Groot, R., 2002. Critical natural capital : a socio-cultural perspective. Ecological Economics 44 : 219-231.
Ciumasu, I.M., Costica, N., 2008. Impacts of air pollution on ecosystem and human health: a sustainability perspective. In: Gurjar B.R, Molina, L., Ojha, C.S.P. (eds) Air Pollution and Health Impacts, CRC Press and Taylor & Francis, Boca Raton, FL, USA. In print
Kosoy, N., Martinez-Tuna, M., Muradian, R., Martinez-Alier, J., 2006. Payments for environmental services in watersheds : insights from a comparative study of three cases in Central America. Ecological Economics 61: 446-455.
Lubchenco, J., 1998. Entering the century of the environment: a new social contract for science. Science 279: 491-497.
Ricci, F., 2007. Channels of transmission of environmental policy to economic growth: a survey of the theory. Ecological Economics 60: 688-699.
Sheldon, J.W., Balick, M.J., 1995. Ethnobotany and the search for balance between use and conservation. In Swanson, T.M. (Ed), Intellectual property rights and biodiversity conservation – an interdisciplinary analysis of the values of medicinal plants. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.

Cuvinte cheie: sustenabilitate, economie ecologica // sustainability, ecological economics