Recently, the general public has experienced several catastrophic environmental events, including both domestic and global events. In Thailand, Bangkok’s particulate matter (PM2.5
) concentration crisis from November 2018 until January 2019 and in September 2019 caused health concerns and health impacts, not only among vulnerable groups (e.g., elderly people and the poor), but also among the general public. PM2.5
refers to particulate matter with diameters of 2.5 micrometers (μm) or less. A high concentration of PM2.5
in a particular area potentially causes toxic health effects. The Pollution Control Department of Thailand reported that the concentration of PM2.5
in many areas was higher than the air quality index (AQI) which indicates an acceptable range of air quality [1
]. In Thailand, the annual standard for PM2.5
concentrations is set at 25 μg/m3
and the daily standard is set at 50 μg/m3
]. Public concern about PM2.5
concentrations led to the urgent need for government action to manage the problem. Besides PM2.5
concentration in Bangkok, several parts of Thailand also faced many environmental catastrophic events, including shorter winter periods, rising temperatures in Bangkok during summer, and heavy floods in northeastern Thailand (see Table 1
). On a global scale, many other catastrophic events have recently occurred in several parts of the world. Those events include fires in the Amazon rainforest, death of aquatic animals due to waste in the oceans, changes in global average temperature, decline of polar bears at the North Pole, and sea level rise (see Table 1
). These global environmental events reflect a global environmental crisis that is having serious impacts on both ecosystems and human well-being. All of these problems have been highlighted in both national and international public media.
Although these catastrophic environmental events cause diverse negative impacts on human well-being and natural ecosystems, both domestically and internationally, these events could help raise the level of environmental concern among people, and ultimately, lead to a greater individual sense of environmental responsibility. Many studies have explored the essential role of environmental knowledge and environmental attitudes in promoting an individual sense of environmental responsibility and pro-environmental behaviors [20
]. Some previous studies have also identified the roles of environmental concerns in predicting people’s environmentally-related behaviors [22
], as well as the link between attitudes toward the environment and environmental concerns [25
]. However, the influence of global and domestic environmental concerns, generated from the recent occurrence of catastrophic environmental events, on the relationship between knowledge/attitudes and a sense of environmental responsibility has never been investigated. Understanding the associations among environmental knowledge, attitudes, domestic and global environmental concerns, and a sense of environmental responsibility could have implications for the development of better communication regarding the consequences of current catastrophic environmental events. Such effective communication could help promote citizen participation in pro-environmental behaviors.
This study aims to investigate university students’ concerns about global and domestic catastrophic environmental events and to examine how global and domestic environmental concerns mediate the effect of environmental knowledge and attitudes on university students’ sense of environmental responsibility. The participants of this study were university students of King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi in Bangkok, Thailand. The results of this study may provide strategies for communicating with or educating university students about the consequences of global and domestic catastrophic environmental events and relevant environmental issues in order to enhance their sense of environmental responsibility.
3. Conceptual Idea of the Study
This study aims to reveal the roles of global and domestic environmental concerns in mediating the effect of environmental knowledge and environmental attitudes on people’s sense of environmental responsibility. The proposed conceptual framework for this study can be seen in Figure 1
Overall, perceived environmental knowledge (PEK) and environmental attitude (EA) are assumed to have a direct effect on environmental responsibility (ER) and to have indirect effects on ER through both domestic environmental concerns (DEC) and global environmental concerns (GEC). By having a certain level of PEK and a positive EA, people can construct appropriate levels of concern about environmental issues related to global and domestic environmental events, which, in turn, affect ER. As stated in the VBN theory [27
], having a positive EA could contribute to a moral responsibility to protect the environment, which, in turn, could affect individuals’ decision to engage in pro-environmental behaviors. It can be also assumed that people with a positive EA may construct appropriate levels of EC, including both DEC and GEC. Widegren [70
] showed that people acquired their EA over time and that a positive EA could help increase EC. Moreover, this study also assumed that DEC might also affect GEC, particularly when people acquire a certain level of environmental knowledge and attitudes. Well understanding of ecosystem functions and characteristics of the nature could enable individuals to relate local environmental conditions to global environmental conditions. As stated by Maharjan and Joshi [71
], people’s understanding of local environmental phenomena relatively contributes to their understanding of global climate situations. Basically, individuals could have less concern about global environmental issues due to a lack of sense of urgency about being impacted by global environmental events. Nash et al. [72
] found that people’s perception on global climate change could be limited due to being beyond their perceptual capacity; whereas, local environmental phenomena could be better perceived due to immediate catastrophic effects. However, it is possible that individuals’ concern about domestic environmental events could finally influence global environmental concerns when they have sufficient environmental knowledge to relate those two environmental issues and have positive environmental attitudes to promote the concerns.
In addition, PEK can also positively and directly contribute to EA. Namely, individuals with appropriate environmental knowledge could have a positive attitude towards the environment. For instance, Bradley et al. [73
] found a significant link between the PEK and EA of students. EA can also positively and directly affect EC. As stated by Ünal, Steg and Gorsira [53
], environmental knowledge can enhance individuals’ concerns and awareness of environmental problems. Wurzinger and Johansson [74
] also found that tourists with more environmental knowledge reported a relatively greater EC for the environmental issues related to tourism destinations. Moreover, it also can be assumed that PEK could have a significant effect on EC through EA. Hunter and Rinner [75
] reported that environmental knowledge could contribute to EC with the support of EA, regarding people’s participation in species preservation behaviors. Finally, when having a certain level of EC, people are expected to construct a sense of ER. As found by Wu et al. [68
], Lin and Huang [76
], and Prakash and Pathak [77
], EC expressed as individuals’ environmental awareness can strengthen their sense of ER and guide them to act in an environmentally-friendly manner.
In this study, it was assumed that both DEC and GEC could have different degrees of effect on ER and could have different levels of power in mediating the effect of PEK and EA on ER. Thus, the results will have implications for strategic communication of catastrophic environmental consequences with the purpose of enhancing an individual sense of ER.
6. Discussion and Conclusions
This study first found that environmental attitude (EA) was very weak in predicting environmental responsibility (ER). This finding is inconsistent with many previous studies which indicated that ecological worldviews or EA were significant for promoting environmental responsibility [89
]. For instance, the study of Tengo et al. [91
] demonstrated that indigenous peoples’ EA could contribute to a sense of responsibility which finally brought environmental sustainability to their areas. People having a belief in the significance of human-nature balance seem to be more responsible to act environmentally. For this study, EA had no direct effect on students’ ER. It can be indicated that thought out, students well-perceived the significance of human-nature balance, and this perception would not contribute to students’ construction of ER.
According the VBN theory [27
], EA had no direct effect on PEBs, but it has a significant effect on PEBs through environmental consciousness and a sense of moral obligation to protect the environment. Therefore, the current study’s findings could be supported by the VBN theory; however, it should be indicated that the power of EA in affecting ER was still very weak as it showed an indirect effect on ER of only 0.133. Regarding this total indirect effect value, the greatest value was generated from the indirect effect of EA on ER through the combination of DEC and GEC. This result suggests that students with higher levels of positive environmental attitudes had constructed more environmental concerns. This, in turn, affected their sense of environmental responsibility. Interestingly, DEC also had a very strong direct effect on GEC. Having more concerns about domestic environmental events, students would also construct more global environmental concerns. It is possible that students could relate domestic environmental issues to global environmental issues due to their acquisition of environmental knowledge. Meanwhile, EA helped developing and promoting levels of concern which could be formed based on students’ perception of the significance of human-nature balance. The more students perceived values of the nature, the more they were concerned about environmental catastrophic events.
By having sufficient knowledge about environment and nature, students could acquire a basic understanding that all elements of global and domestic environments are connected as a system. Thus, when an environmental problem occurs in one area, it potentially causes environmental problems in other areas. In reality, domestic environmental events potentially create a sense of urgency about being impacted by negative consequences, and this sense contributes to DEC. For global environmental events, people may have a less sense of urgency about being impacted by the events; but global environmental events, in fact, can generate widespread negative impacts, and these impacts can be either directly or indirectly faced by everyone in the world. Based on the findings of this study, it can be pointed out that DEC can be first generated due to students’ sense of urgency of being impacted by the negative consequences and perceived severity of impacts. After relating domestic environmental conditions to global environmental conditions, students could consequently construct GEC. Once both GEC and DEC are generated, the combination of DEC and GEC become very powerful to promote ER. Most importantly, the combination of DEC and GEC could significantly mediate the effect of EA on ER, and the effect of perceived environmental knowledge (PEK) on ER.
Considering perceived environmental knowledge (PEK), PEK had both direct and indirect effects on ER. It can be explained that PEK could help individuals understand the qualifications and functions of environmental systems, the potential negative effects of human activities on nature, the severity of adverse consequences and the opportunities available to solve the problems. PEK can enhance people’s recognition of their important roles in solving or avoiding environmental problems; thus, PEK could help enhance people’s perceived moral responsibility to protect the environment. The study of Pan et al. [81
] also found that environmental knowledge positively influenced environmental responsibility of university students from Taiwan. Similarly, the study of Teksoz et al. [92
] revealed that environmental knowledge had a significant influence on environmental responsibility of university students. Many studies also found that environmental knowledge significantly affected environmental behaviors through individual sense of responsibility [81
]. In addition, PEK had an indirect effect on ER through DEC, GEC and EA. The path analysis showed that the indirect effect of PEK on ER through the combination of DEC and GEC was the strongest. The effect of PEK on EA was also important as EA could play an important role in mediating the effect of environmental knowledge on environmental responsibility. Many previous studies also found the link between EA and environmental knowledge [95
]. It could be stated that having more environmental knowledge can support students’ formation of environmental attitudes.
However, the novelty of this research is that encouraging people to together acquire concerns about domestic environmental problems and global environmental problems is the most powerful way to create a sense of environmental responsibility to protect the environment. Having both GEC and DEC together could enable people to realize the severity of the problems and how each catastrophic environmental event can potentially cause adverse impacts on both the environment and human well-being. Most importantly, people could recognize the negative consequences of an unsustainable relationship between humans and nature, which can potentially cause problems worldwide. Thus, people with appropriate levels of environmental concerns can be aware of their roles in minimizing these problems.
When considering the role of DEC and GEC in creating students’ environmental responsibility, the results demonstrated that GEC had the greater direct effect on ER than DEC. By seeing global environmental problems, such as the death of aquatic animals due to waste in the oceans, and fires in the Amazon rainforest, students might realize the seriousness of global environmental problems. Likewise, they might better understand that these issues can generate vast negative impacts, not only on people in the place where those problems exist, but also on people around the world. Consequently, this realization might influence a student’s perception of the urgent need for environmental problem-solving measures. Compared to GEC, the direct influence of DEC on ER was smaller. It is possible that domestic environmental events have a smaller potential impact than global environment events do. However, in promoting students’ GEC, DEC could play an important role as the result of this study revealed that DEC had a very strong effect on GEC.
Finally, this study has implications for the development of communication strategies. The results suggest that educating students about both global and domestic environmental events together could effectively help promote students’ sense of environmental responsibility. It should be noted that communicating with students only about domestic catastrophic environmental events may have the least direct effect on their sense of environmental responsibility; even though, impacts of domestic environmental events can be easily perceived by students. Once students have domestic environmental concerns, and they are communicated with current global environmental events, their global environmental concerns would be significantly enhanced. Consequently, both domestic and global environmental concerns will have a stronger power to create environmental responsibility among students. However, students should be first provided with basic environmental knowledge which includes issues pertaining to ecosystems, ecological values, environmental phenomena, possible causes of environmental problems and potential impacts. This knowledge would enable students to identify potential adverse effects of global and domestic environmental events or to construct a sense of urgency about being impacted by environmental catastrophic events. Positive environmental attitudes also play an important role in helping students develop environmental responsibility through environmental concerns. Students with positive environmental attitudes will recognize important values of nature, and they would, therefore, have more concerns about environmental problems when being communicated with current environmental events. In sum, it can be concluded that both global and domestic environmental concerns have potential to transfer students’ environmental attitudes and environmental knowledge into a sense of responsibility to protect the environment. Therefore, all four elements should be promoted in learning and teaching activities.