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U-M NRE 701 - Evaluation of Environmentally Responsible Behavior in the Lake Baikal Region of Russia

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By Nicole Rom (and Jennifer C. Smith—already completed 701)SummaryProject Description and ImplementationDriving research questions:Project GoalsMethods and ObjectivesAn Evaluation of Environmentally Responsible Behavior in the Lake Baikal Regionof RussiaandSummer Ecological School: Pollution Problems and SolutionsBy Nicole Rom (and Jennifer C. Smith—already completed 701)SummaryThe proposed project includes both a research component and a community service component. The goals of the research are to evaluate environmentally responsible behaviors in the Baikal region of Russia. The research will assess public perceptions of the issue of litter (perceptions include knowledge of the effects on the environment, current behaviors related to litter, attitudes regarding litter, and innovative solutions) as an applied example for other environmental issues. Between 150 and 200 individuals will be surveyed and/or interviewed to answer these research questions. A community service extension of the research is the organization and implementation of a 12 day summer camp, with support and assistance from NGO Baikal Environmental Wave, to communicate how individuals affect the issue of litter, as well as to enhance existing environmental education programs by encouraging not only pollutionawareness and knowledge, but more importantly, responsible environmental behaviors. Three Russian University Leaders, a Russian Co-Director, and two Americans graduate students (Project Leaders) will conduct classes and outdoor activities for 18-20 school-aged children to address the need to educate and empower individuals.Background and Needs AssessmentSince the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia has been undergoing a period of transition—politically, economically, and culturally. During this transitory period, economic development projects are often favored over environmental protection or clean up, and there has been a tendency to consider conservation as luxury that can only be afforded during times of economic prosperity.1 The creation of effective environmental protection policies in the Former Soviet Union is hindered by limited economic resources, lack of training in self-government, corruption, poorly functioning legal systems, and a general lack of trust in the government.2 Transition to a market based economy has caused new threats to the environment such as poaching of endangered species and deforestation stemming from over-logging for exportation.3 The new consumer society has also brought an alarming increase in litter, impacting water resources, biodiversity, and the aesthetic value of scenery.4 Many researchers who have investigated the environmental situation in present day Russia have concluded that during this period of transition, foreign involvement is crucial to the development of a stable, effective system of environmental protection in Russia5, 6,7. This involvement should not only be in the form of funding for environmental projects, but should also include technical information exchanges and policy development support. Despite international financial and technical support for environmental efforts in Russia, the American academic community has done very little recent research on environmental issues specifically in post-soviet contexts. There is also very little academic research from Russian 1scholars on these issues—Ecology and Environmental Protection only came into being as officialuniversity departments within the last ten years in Russia. Very little research exists on environmental values, how to promote environmentally responsible behavior, or methods of environmental education.i The emphasis of most Russian environmental education programs is “cherish nature,” as opposed to why or how to protect the earth.7 Other programs focus on awareness of environmental problems, but not on action towards resolving these issues. Empirically based models of environmental education show that knowledge alone is not sufficient to create lasting behavior change.8, 9 One region of Russia that is of international environmental interest is the Lake Baikal region. Lake Baikal is s truly unique ecological treasure, and was recognized by the United Nations as a World Heritage Site in 1996. UNESCO describes the lake as “the most outstanding example of a freshwater ecosystem.”10 Baikal contains nearly 20% of the Earth’s unfrozen freshwater. It is home to a large number of endemic species, which make it a valuable site for evolutionary science.11 Because of its uniqueness, the irreversibility threshold for environmental degradation in Lake Baikal is much lower than in other areas,12 making it especially crucial that the international community and the local communities of the region work together to preserve and protect the environment of this region. It is important that Irkutsk, the political, economic, and cultural center of the Baikal region, as well as other communities surrounding the lake, develop a citizenry that has the awareness of their environmental problems, knowledge of their environment, the dialectical skills to think critically about alleviating and preventing such problems, as well as the motivationto participate in environmentally responsible behaviors. Many non-governmental organization’s (NGO’s)—both Russian and international—are working to protect the environment in this region. Baikal Environmental Wave is one of the leading and most famous and effective NGOs in the Baikal region. Its history began in 1990, when a small group of citizens, concerned with the environmental situation in the region as a whole, and their particular responsibility before the world community and future generations for the preservation of Lake Baikal, set up Baikal Environmental Wave. The organization’s mission is to “promote a clear policy for the consistent orientation of the economy and society towards environmental protection and sustainable development, acting itself to this end by encouraging education, information, discussion, and public participation in decision-making processes.”13 Several NGOs, such as Baikal Environmental Wave, focus on raising environmental consciousness and activism by educating citizens about what they can do themselves, but there has been little research on what the population of the Baikal region knows or feels about environmental issues or about how they perceive their ability to affect change in the environmental sphere.

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