In recent times, the global community has faced several environmental crises such as climate change, the ozone hole, and mass deforestation. In response, environmental awareness has increased in many countries. Voluntary action groups at the community level, national and global non-governmental organizations (NGO's), scientific bodies, mass media and governments have all played their part. Yet, in many cases, such public awareness still lags behind current realities of environmental degradation, just as there are still serious gaps in understanding of the intricate balances of the Earth's systems. In addition, only a minority of humanity takes an active participation in environmentalism. The awareness of people of the effect of the environment on their well-being and of the impact of their lifestyles on the environment plays an essential part in sustaining development. Environmental information is needed in a language they can understand and in a form which they can relate to their own situation.
Every June 5 people all over the world celebrate World Environment Day, in support of UNEP's objectives. On the same day, the UN Secretary-General awards the Sasakawa Environment prize, honouring the year's most outstanding contribution in the field of the environment. The Outreach network is a unique coalition of organizations which disseminate information on environmental and health issues. Its policy is to open up dialogue with people who are receptive to the environmental message, such as relief workers, youth and industry. United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) uses a wide variety of media forms, from print to film, to disseminate a broad range of environmental news and information. In 1984, for instance, UNEP and the British ITV company founded the Television Trust for the Environment, which has arranged over 60 international co-productions, reaching audiences in 90 countries.
It was reported in 1999 that fewer than one in four persons in the European Union regarded the fight against pollution as a problem for the future, and only one in 25 felt that pollution was not really a problem. While as much as 90% of Greeks considered the problem to be an immediate one, their sense of urgency was shared by just over half of those polled in France. On the whole, the Europeans who were most convinced of the urgent need for an "ecological" combat were in the 25-54 age group. They were rather well-educated and had above-average incomes. Eight Europeans out of 10 felt they were living on an endangered planet. A mere 10% of Europeans believed that human activities were not harmful to the environment. Europeans were most concerned about air, water and soil pollution, which they ranked just ahead of the destruction of the ozone layer when considering environmental problems in general. But traffic problems, followed by air pollution, were their chief preoccupations at a purely personal level. In future two Europeans out of three would be ready to pay more for certain products in order to protect the environment. Food topped this particular list, followed by water. But people were much less keen to pay more for other goods and services, including cars, motorcycles and air travel.