Citizen’s involvement increases climate awareness
Apart from the unique information about the air quality in the streets, the remarkable ‘CurieuzeNeuzen’ action also provides interesting understandings of the social impact of the project. Those who participated in the project (or wanted to) are open to measures like a city toll or a ban on combustion engines. Half of those who participated want to use their car less often, and a small 10% is considering to move.
The CurieuzeNeuzen initiative was the largest ‘civil research project ever’ in Flanders, in which 20.000 volunteers participated to measure the air quality at home. The project was an initiative of newspaper De Standaard in cooperation with the Antwerp University and the Flemish Environmental Association (Vlaamse Milieu Maatschappij, VMM), Hiva and Vito.
Today, it seems that candidates and participants are more worried about the air quality and the environment than people are on average and that they are more open to measures to improve the quality of the air. According to the researchers, the rest of the population is far less involved.
A remarkable conclusion in a period where the climate is a hot topic. But the climate truants, the alarming climate reports, and the debates in the media have caused climate tiredness and fear to be pushed out of the comfort zone. If the research had been done one year earlier, the support for action would probably have been stronger.
“The fact that candidates and participants are open to measures in spite of the opposition shows that participating in such a project has an impact,” says Huib Huyse of research institute Hiva.
Huyse and his team noticed that those involved were open to measures like a ban on heating with gas and oil fuel by 2050, or a ban on selling cars with combustion engines. Even the introduction of a NO2 tax or a road toll in cities was considered acceptable. But the average Flemish inhabitant will not support such measures.
They rather believe in heavy investments in public transport or in ‘painless’ solutions, like promoting working from home, parking outside the city center, or the introduction of a mobility budget. “This could be a signal for the government,” Huyse says. “Those measures are relatively easy to introduce.”
Unpopular measures, however, are necessary to have an effective climate policy, Huyse says. “The survey shows that the Green Deel will get fierce opposition. So, it is interesting to know that involving citizens in citizen science can be a way to increase support.”
Lots of those who participated apparently have changed their behavior after participating. Half of them more often taken their bicycles or go on foot. The number of car commuters went down from 40 to 34%. Some started teleworking. Others decided to move or to change jobs.
“The research project mainly had an indirect impact,” concludes Huyse. “The database was used to improve the ATMO-Street computer model that monitors the NO2 concentrations in Flanders. Flanders now has to give detailed information to Europe for the report on how to meet the European air quality standards.
So, Europe can now set the screws and demand more effective measures. Not only in hotspots in Antwerp, but in all municipalities where the standard was exceeded. In the long term, this might have more effect than loudly announced symbolic actions.