Analysis of an Activist Environmental Organisation

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In a qualitative study by Arnold et al. (2009), the majority of the participants mentioned the importance of their friends in their involvement in pro-environmental behaviour. Friends were involved in introducing them to environmental clubs and projects and acting as role models and supporters.

Despite the apparently strong influence of peers, there also seems to be a role for parents to play. In the same study by Arnold et al. (2009), all of the participants considered their parents as being influential in their involvement in pro-environmental behaviour, especially during the formative years in childhood. It seems that by showing an interest in environmental issues and spending time in nature with their children, parents can help young people begin to develop a more pro-environmental attitude.

Villacorta et al. (2003) also found that both peers and parents play an important role in promoting pro-environmental concerns and attitudes.

2.5.13 Teachers

According to Arnold et al. (2009), teachers play a role in promoting pro-environmental attitudes through raising awareness about issues, acting as role-models, and encouraging and supporting students to engage in pro-environmental behaviours and actions. Teachers also influence their students through their attitude in the classroom and the manner in which they deliver pro-environmental messages. A strong passion towards a particular issue is often easily transmitted to students.

2.5.14 Political Beliefs

Since radical political beliefs are less integrated into the 'dominant social paradigm', those who report to having such beliefs would be expected to be more willing to support pro-environmental political agendas (Dunlap, 1975), and engage in pro-environmental behaviour themselves (Olli et al. 2001).

2.5.15 Favourable Situations

A significant number of people appear to perceive the situational conditions that they find themselves in as affecting negatively their personal disposition to engage in pro-environmental behaviour (Corraliza and Berenguer, 2000).

According to Bybee (2008), we should have a moral obligation towards the natural environment, to ensure the survival of present and future generations. Corraliza and Berenguer (2000) though, demonstrated that strong feelings of moral obligation for carrying out a pro-environmental behaviour are only determinant for that behaviour when they are not inhibited by situational factors.

Thus, in the attitude-behaviour relationship, situational conditions impose limits, with pro-environmental behaviour depending not only on internal factors such as attitudes, motivation and skills, but also on external factors that can restrict or facilitate such behaviour.

2.5.16 Experiencing Ecological Problems

Some studies show that witnessing the destruction of a beloved natural area or having a similar negative experience involving environmental destruction lead to more concern for the environment and action towards its protection (Ewert et al., 2005; Marshall et al., 2005; Palmer, 1993; Tanner, 1980). Manzo and Weinstein (1987) found that most active volunteers in the Sierra Club had directly or indirectly experienced the negative effects of environmental degradation. However, a comparative study of Belgium, Italy, France, the UK, and Germany (Rohrschneider, 1988) concludes that 'experiences with ecological problems in one's immediate environment do not lead directly to action in the sense of greater support for environmental protection policies' (p. 363).

2.5.17 Which of these Factors?

Most of the studies reviewed have taken into consideration only one or very few variables at a time, and a number of these could not demonstrate genuine 'cause and effect' relationships. Often, studies have contradicted one another regarding the predictive value of a variable. Oskamp et al. (1991) demonstrated that there is no single and general variable that predicts pro-environmental behaviour. Such behvior, like most behaviours, appears to be multiply determined.

From this line of inquiry, though, it can be seen that environmentalists generally share some combination of the following character traits or experiences:

pro-social values


a strong internal locus of control

high self- efficacy

an emotional affinity towards nature

a feeling of interconnectedness with nature

participating in formal, non-formal and informal EE

considerable knowledge of environmental issues

childhood and youth experiences in nature

outdoor recreational interests

influence by peers, family, or role models such as teachers

radical political beliefs

witnessing the destruction of a beloved natural area or having a similar negative experience involving environmental destruction

2.6 Why Choose an Activist Environmental Organisation for my Study?

Based on the objectives for EE as defined by the 1977 Tbilisi Intergovernmental Conference on Environmental Education (UNESCO, 1977), an environmentally responsible individual is one who has:

an awareness and sensitivity to the environment and environmental issues

a basic understanding of the environment, environmental issues, and humanity's role and responsibilites,

social values, strong environmental concern and the enthusiasm to participate in actions and behaviour to protect and improve the environment,

skills to identify and help mitigate environmental problems, and

a sense of responsibiltiy that ensures participation in working toward resolution of environmental problems.

An important limit of the current literature is that very few studies examine actual behavior, but it is common place to measure behaviour on a self-report basis. The link between self-reported behavior or behavioral intentions and actual behavior, though, can be quite weak. In studies involving self-reporting more participants will report engagement in pro-environmental behaviour than actually do, since it is definately easier to report such behaviour than to actually practice it, and it is also tempting to oversell positve actions (Schultz and Oskamp, 1996). As such, overreporting by respondents, is somewhat of an inevitable consequence of self-reporting, as they are usually keen to show how 'environmental' they are (Barr, 2007). This issue is becoming more and more relevant as environmental discourse is becoming more mainstream. In various studies, researchers have observed that people claiming to possess pro-environmental attitudes often do not act accordingly (De Young, 2000; Finger, 1994; Pelletier et al., 1998; Shultz et al., 1995).

Stern (2000a) has distinguished 3 types of environmentally significant behavior, and one of these is environmental activism includeing active participation in environmental organisations. Environmental NGOs have long been recognised as essential contributors to environmental protection. The 1987 report of the World Commission on Environment and Development, Our Common Future, has in fact urged governments 'to recognise and extend NGOs' right to know, and have access to information on the environment and natural resources; their right to be consulted and to participate in decision making on activities likely to have a significant effect on the environment; and their right to legal remedies and redress when their health or environment may be seriously affected.' (WCED, 1987 p. 328).

Members in environmental organisations are expected to engage more in pro-environmental behaviour than the general public (Ellis and Thompson, 1997; Hines et al., 1986-1987; Olli et al., 2001). If they are volounteering time and energy, it must be at least partly, because they believe in the issue and in the possibility of change. Being part of an environmental organisation would also instigate you to adopt more pro-environmental behaviours, even if just to feel a sense of belonging to group.

Doyle and McEachern (2001), view 'the green movement' as a broad umbrella category for a wide range of very different groups. Environmental NGOs range from tiny, grassroots organisations to large, well funded, expert multinational organisations that try to infulence international environmental policy-making (Jasanof, 1997). According to Mohd and Ahmad (2005), environmental NGOs can perform many roles in their quest to protect the environment, and they outline some of these roles. Some of these groups work in conducting research and disseminating the results to policy-makers and the general public. Others set up and carry out educational programmes, aiming at different age groups, and in different contexts, to increase awareness and knowledge of issues. Some groups, seek to increase people's positive experiences in nature by organising activities in natural areas. Other groups, prefer to lobby policy-makers to create policies that promote environmetal protection. The more radical groups, on the other hand, can be quite aggessive in their tactics, often resorting to protests and demonstrations, and in the most extreme radicals, even vandalising corporate and governmental properties, and sabotaging projects.

I did not only choose an activist environmental organisation, but from within I chose participants that had an activist role. Paying a membership to an organisation does not imply commitment towards the organisation and its vision. There are different levels of membership within an environmental group, and out of all possible types of environmental organisation membership, environmental activism is the most committed (Stern et al., 1999). Being an activist within an environmental organisation involves trying to actively influence policy-making and public opinion to take and support environmental measures. Finger (1994) unsurprisingly found that environmental activism is directly related to pro-environmental behaviour. Emmons (1997) defined pro-environmental actions as 'a deliberate strategy that involves decisions, planning, implementation, and reflection . . . to achieve a specific positive environmental outcome' (p. 35).

2.6.1 Local Activist Environmental NGOs

Local environmental NGOs were and still are instrumental in influencing environmental legislation and policies and putting environmental issues on political agendas, since the 1960s (Gatt and Harmsworth, 1998). This contribution was acknowledged in the National Report on Sustainable Development, submitted by the Maltese government for the World Summit for Sustainable Development, where it states that 'NGOs are increasingly being recognised by government as potent forces for social, environmental and economic development.' (Briguglio, 2002, p. 69).

There are various environmental organisations in Malta with the major ones being: BirdLife Malta, Din l-Art Ħelwa (National Trust of Malta), Flimkien Għal Ambjent Aħjar (FAA) (Together for a Better Environment), FoE Malta, Gaia Foundation and Nature Trust. These groups do not only work independently but they have also formed a coalition together with some other envronmental groups to support each other's work, issue joint press releases and documents and recently even organise national protests.

2.7 Why do Young People Join Environmental Organisations?

In response to the destruction of the environment, new environmental groups have been formed whilst existing groups have widened their focus. But when, in 2007 (The Gallup Organisation) the Eurobarometer survey asked young people what they regularly do in their free time, participation in voluntary or community work was mentioned by only 2% of young Europeans aged between 15 and 30. In general, young adults in the EU are not active in organisations or associations. In the 2007 barometer survey only 22% of young Europeans are members of an organisation, and out of these, only 4% are members of an organisation striving for animal protection and/or the environment.

According to Truman (1971) it is 'disturbances' in society that lead to the formation of NGOs. Since the destruction of the environment is a disturbace, this leads to the formation of environmental NGOs that embrace the main objective of eliminating the disturbance. The shared goal of the members which in this context is environmental protection, is the main force driving individuals to join and commit themselves to the the group. Van Til (2005) calls this 'the pulling together by people in a way that makes collective meaning out of actions that are important to them' (p.40). According to Pynes (2004) though, some people choose to join volunteering organisations not because they are committed to the overall vision and mission of the group, but because they feel a need to contibute to society, and they see their involvement as a way to do so. Such people would most probably choose the organisation which is most accessible to them.

Olson (1971), argues that individuals are attracted to and join environmental groups, only if they will gain something in the long run. Olson also argues that this gain is usually something that cannot be obtained if you are not a member i.e. it is not a collective gain such as a reduction in pollution, and the gain more than compensates for the personal price of joining. According to Pearce (1993) though the gain received can actually be having the intial goal for joining (environmental protection in this context) achieved. She also states that the benefits gained may actually be unanticipated. Pearce (1993) also suggests that people become members of organisations because they are recruited by friends, relatives, or acquaintances.

Snyder and Omoto (1992), report that people have a wide variety of reasons for joining volunteer organisations, such as personal values and, concern for others and personal development. Human thoughts and actions are very complex and it would be impossible to find one reason why people, in this case young people choose to join an organisation. Van Til (1988) describes the membership in volunteer organisations as complex and multifaceted. Different motivations are important for different people and most probably each member of an organisation also has a combination of different motivations for joining.

2.8 Active Members Vs Nonactive Members in Environmental Organisations

Manzo and Weinstein (1987) demonstrated that factors such as age, sex, social status, education and employment were predictors of membership into the Sierra Club (the oldest, largest, and most influential grassroots environmental organisation in the United States), but not of active involvement in the organisation. Even though some influential differences between the two groups existed prior to membership (e.g. values, reasons for joining, commitment in other organisations and political orientation), they suggested that the major influence on the level of commitment occurs after joining the organisation. They found that socialisation was very important in influencing a person's decision to become and remain active. Volunteers were more likely than nonactive members to have made friends within the group. Furthermore, Manzo and Weinstein suggested that when projects are carried out successfully, active members feel a sense of accomplishment and this increases their self-efficacy. An increase in self-efficiacy in turn reinforces a more active role. On the otherhand non active members do not fuel their self-efficacy and become less and less interested to work. Therefore organisations that want their members to be more active, should try to engage volunteers with tasks that are meaningful and that contribute to the success of the organisation.

Martinez and McMullin (2004) surveyed members of the Appalachian Trail Conference (ATC) to identify characteristics of active members and their motivations behind such activity. ATC is a voluntary organisation aiming at the protection and management of the Appalachian Trail resources. Their findings suggest that, both active and nonactive members felt that making a difference was important in their decision to become members. Nonactive members though were more likely inhibited by other competing. Active members on the otherhand had the opportunity to witness the effects of their actions and the success of the organisation. This allowed them to achieve a sense of personal accomplishment, and high self-efficacy, believing that they could make a difference. For nonactive members, the potential of making a difference may have been important initially, but it was unknown and they thus lacked the confidence that their participation could make a difference. Sometimes new members have to have the patience for the opportunity to experience such successes to come up. In fact active members had belonged to the ATC for longer than nonactive members, thus having had more opportunities to experience the sense of accomplishment from successful completion projects.