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Significant life experiences affect environmental action: A critical review of Taiwanese research

Summary


Research in Taiwan is consistent with research in other countries in finding that childhood natural experiences is a crucial factor in developing environmental activists

The professional literature on significant life experiences (SLE) promoting environmental action focuses primarily on studies conducted in Western countries. This paper addresses the gap in the literature by reviewing SLE research conducted in Taiwan.

Four Taiwanese SLE studies conducted by the author and his colleagues were analyzed to gain a better understanding of how to cultivate environmental action in Taiwan. These studies examined the autobiographical memories of different groups of people, including active members of environmental organizations, environmental activists, civil servants, and teachers. Study participants represented different age groups and lived in different areas of Taiwan, including urban and rural areas. One of the four studies allowed for a comparison of two groups of adults – one group with high pro-environmental scores and one group with low pro-environmental scores.

Childhood natural experiences was found to be the most crucial factor for developing environmental activists. There was a distinct urban-rural divide, however, in the frequency in which childhood natural experiences were mentioned and in the implications of such experiences. Urban residents have fewer childhood natural experiences than those living in rural areas. Their interest in environmental action tended to be influenced by environmental activists, environment-related books, outrage over socially unjust environmental disruption, and environmental clubs during higher education. There were also generational differences in factors influencing environmental action. Older people mentioned “life principles” (simplicity, respect for life, responsibility) more frequently than middle-aged or younger people. Both older and middle-aged people referred to “loss of beloved natural places” and “fear of environmental disasters” more than younger people. Tertiary education, environmental organizations, and college student organizations were mentioned far more frequently by younger adults than older and middle age adults. Clearly absent in the findings of this research is the mention of primary and secondary education as having a positive influence on the development of environmental action.

The researchers used the information gathered from this review of SLE research to develop an “environmental action model” illustrating ways in which significant life experiences contribute to environmental action. According to the model, environmental action is the product of the interaction among fundamental factors, facilitating factors, inhibiting factors, and environmental hope. Fundamental factors refer to basic life experiences that are antecedents for future environmental civil actions and include joyful experiences with nature during childhood, religious beliefs favorable for environmental protection, a sense of social justice, and a concern for the environment influenced by friends or family, education, books, and media. Facilitating factors (such as family support and concern over environmental problems) stimulate the fundamental factors, thereby increasing the possibility for people to perform environmental civil actions. Inhibiting factors (both internal and external) tend to inhibit fundamental factors from transforming into environmental civil actions.

This research can be used by program developers in both formal and non-formal environmental education settings in their efforts to improve the effectiveness of environmental education programs and instructional practices in Taiwan. Specific suggestions on how to do this are offered by the researcher.

Citation

Hsu, S-H, (2017). Significant life experiences affect environmental action: A critical review of Taiwanese research. Japanese Journal of Environmental Education, 26(4), 51-56.

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