According to 2016 statistics gathered by the World Health Organization (WHO), 91% of the world’s population does not breathe clean air, and more than half of the urban population were exposed to outdoor air pollution levels at least 2.5 times above their defined safe standard.
Environmental issues, particularly those associated with air pollution, are certainly one of the biggest global challenges.
The European Values Study (EVS), a large multinational survey research program that has been studying basic human values for almost 40 years, has devoted an entire section to environmental issues. GORBI has been part of the project since 2008 and is the data provider for Georgia and Azerbaijan for the most recent year.
When asked if they would make a personal financial sacrifice if they were certain that the money would be used to prevent environmental pollution, 88% of Georgian Citizens responded positively. Among 16 countries where the European Values Study has conducted research, Georgians are most open to investing their money in environmental improvement. By comparison, 28% of the population of the Slovak Republic would agree to donate money to fight environmental pollution. By even basic logic, such a high percentage of the population wanting to donate money for environmental causes suggests that either citizens of the country really think that environmental pollution is a real threat to the country or because of a culture-wide genuine care for environment.
Graph1. I would give part of my income if I were certain that the money would be used to prevent environmental pollution (agree, %)
Source: European Value Study, 2017-2018
Looking at the data from The European Values Study, the idea that environmental problems are of a big concern for Georgians is also strengthened by the fact that 71% of Georgian citizens agree with the statement that protecting the environment should be given priority over economic growth and jobs. This result makes Georgia the 4th country among those surveyed who prioritize environmental issues over economic development. By comparison, in neighboring Armenia only 39% of the population is prioritizing environmental protection over economic growth and jobs.
It is perhaps unsurprising that environmental causes have such strong support in Georgia as the country faces serious ecological problems, with the most serious likely being air pollution. According to a WHO report published in 2018, the mortality rate attributed to household and ambient air pollution in Georgia is one of the highest in Europe. According to this report the mortality rate attributed to air pollution for Georgia is nearly twice that of neighboring Armenia and Azerbaijan. This rate is also around 14 times higher than in European countries as Finland, Sweden and Norway. Even without looking at any of the statistics, any regular Georgian citizen can smell atmospheric pollution while walking on the streets in Tbilisi. Perhaps we have reached a point where poor air quality has made this issue an inescapable daily experience for citizens.
It is also very interesting that even though Georgians express a willingness to financially contribute to environmental protection, a majority of them don’t think of themselves as someone who can actually make a difference in reforming environmental issues. Some 58% of Georgian population think that it is difficult for someone like them to do much about the environmental situation, which makes Georgians among the least optimistic countries when it comes to changing the situation. In addition, 43% of the Georgian population thinks that there is no point in doing anything for the environment as an individual unless others do the same. This is the highest proportion that thinks this way among those countries surveyed by the EVS. Surprisingly, even though 88% of Georgians said that they would contribute financially to prevent environmental pollution, 53% of Georgians think nonetheless that there are more important things to do in life than protect the environment.
Environmental problems and air pollution in particular are one of the biggest challenges that Georgia is currently facing. With ev
ery faulty car, construction site and cut tree, the Georgian population is breathing more and more toxic air every day. Even though government has taken some good steps to reduce air pollution, by for example introducing mandatory vehicle inspection, and some interesting anti-pollution campaigns have taken place in 2017 such as equipping all major monuments in the capital with anti-pollution masks. But more needs to be done to reduce rates of cancer and heart disease exacerbated by pollution. It is of great importance to increase awareness about the consequences of atmospheric air pollution and act.
GORBI is an exclusive member of the Gallup International research network and has more than two decades of experience in survey research (gorbi.com)