measuring development in environmental concern

taking a class on environment and water issues right now, i benefit from the multi-disciplinary and multi-national background of the people in my class. especially when the discussion revolves around water, drought, starvation and the like the opinion gaps far apart. today it even went so far as to involve a debate about the ontological fundaments of whether a drought exists ‘naturally’ or whether it is socially constructed by the definition and measurement of what we call a drought, including the economic, political and social consequences that come with this naming in the first place.

personally, i am far from taking scientific sides in this debate, as i both see the social construction and political implication in the naming, measuring and framing process as well as i understand the practicability of such concepts in order to work with them in real life terms. instead, i leaned back and started wondering about, whether the concern with environment, in the dimension transcending political rhetoric and actually effecting life-choices and thought-processes in everyday decisions of both citizens and their government, would correlate with the level of development ascribed to the country. obviously these forms of measurements are in desperate need for stringent definitions and namings and framings themselves, all of which can be constantly contested. but, i still can not help but wonder, whether the level of concern with environmental issues would correlate with the level of development in a country.

as the idea hit me in class today, i kept building it further on the basis of knowledge i have from personal observations, both through traveling in countries like austria and sweden, but also egypt, turkey and others as well as  following news and picture images all over the world, while simultaneously following the polarized discussion in my class. and i realized, while it might just be my personal impression, it was not the first time that i could feel the answers differing a lot according to the lines of academic background as well as national heritage. so while the norwegian and swedish student in the class point towards the need to understand drought as a man-made concept in order to increase the necessity of government-responsibility for the issue, the iraqi and syrian student shrug their shoulders and state that their governments are only superficially concerned with this issue and that a general understanding of what environmental issues actually are is needed before anything else. it was particularly one sentence today, that got me both smiling and thinking at the same time. a syrian student told about his travels through syria when he interviewed people on the street and asked a man what he thought of climate change and the man answered “i do not know what climate change is. but i think it exists in europe and america”.

so, while i am not pointing towards a direct cause and effect relationship between the factors of development and the amount of concern with environmental issues, i can not help but think this idea further. in addition to what i have seen in media and personal travels, i also keep thinking about the notorious pyramid of necessities and how someone can not lie back and be an academic or philosopher if you are forced to occupy your everyday thoughts on how to survive until the next day. no, there needs to be a basis to live upon first, before you can concern yourself with further questions. to me a similar thought makes sense with governments as well. but do not trust me on my judgment, ask yourself instead: if you were the head of government … if the country is shaken by revolutions, terrorism, and civil war, would you care about gas emissions? if the nation is starving, freezing and unemployed, would you insist on the recycling of trash? if people do not have houses to live in and jobs to make money off, if children can not go to school and neither the industry nor agriculture is properly working, which policies would you prioritize? now, coming back to my initial question, with this prioritization in mind and the realities one is aware of between the different countries of the world, would it not be interesting to see whether there is indeed something, maybe not a correlation but a parallel, between the level of development and the amount of concern given to environmental issues?

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