Public Perception and Individual Contribution Towards Air Quality in Oslo, Norway. A Critical Evaluation

Master's Thesis, 2014

55 Pages, Grade: Distinction

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Table of Content

1.1 Introduction
1.2 The problem of air quality in Oslo
1.3 Aim and objective of the study

2.0 Literature review
2.1 Definition of public perception
2.2 History of perception studies
2.3 Limitation/problems with the previous studies
2.4 Mixed perceptions
2.5 The impacts of socio characteristics
2.6 Impact of gender type on perception
2.7 Impact of age on perception
2.8 Impact of income level on perception
2.9 Environmental behavior of the individuals

3.1 Methods (design and sample)
3.2 Results
3.3 Discussion
3.3.1 Public Concerns towards air quality
3.3.2 Public perception towards air polluters
3.3.3 Public environmental behavior

4.1 Conclusion
4.2 Limitation of this study
4.3 Recommendations for further studies


Appendix I The study questionnaire in English language

Appendix II The study questionnaire in Norwegian language


There is a current attention is paying to air quality management in Oslo. This attention appeared in the plan for improving air quality in Oslo, which is passed in 2005 and revised in 2010, on short and long term. To meet the objectives of this plan, public consultation is necessary for the local authorities. Decision makers depend heavily on medical and scientific information, which is uncertain. Therefore, this project examines the perception of Oslo residents towards air quality, and the impacts of air pollution on their lives, health and behaviors. In doing so, people’s concerns and their awareness towards air pollution was evaluated as well as the way they perceive the effects of air pollution on their daily outdoor activities. Public behavior was also investigated in order to evaluate their contribution to the issue of air pollution. The research employs quantitative technique by using questionnaire survey which is analyzed by using statistical methods. The questionnaire is directed to the residents of Oslo in four different areas in the city (Gamle Oslo, Sofienberg, Oslo Sentrum and Frogner area). The four areas were chosen due to their high population density and as well as due to their high pollution levels, which sometimes during winter exceed the National Air Quality Strategy Standards for PM10 and NO2.

The results of this project have shown high level of concerns towards air pollution among the residents, and those who showed the highest concerns by the socio-demographic factors were women, young people and those of high level education (university and college). Also, high per cent of the participants showed good knowledge about the major sources of air pollution in their city. High per cent indicated that there are no breathing health effects of air pollution on them while walking, and almost half of the sample indicated that there are some breathing health effects on them while jogging and cycling. Regarding the environmental behavior, people have shown high willingness to improve their behavior. However, converting from willingness mode to act mode is requiring some compromises such as improving and reducing costs of public transportation and increase cycling lanes in the city. Reduction the high costs of electric cars is also another motivation to improve people’s behavior, which they consider unaffordable in spite of the initiatives that are adopted by Oslo government to make them more appealing.

Chapter 1

1.1 Introduction

Urban air pollution is a major issue facing the world’s population today as well as many other environmental problems. The well known environmental problems such as global warming, ozone depletion and acid rain appear to be far from people’s daily life. While air quality and its effects on human health represents a direct concern to the public as well as to health experts and authorities (Saksena, 2007). In the cities, the problem of air pollution is growing with time due to the increase of population, industrial development and the rapid rise in the number of vehicles. Decades ago, the cities are used to be mainly polluted by industrial air pollution, but now the factories that were in the cities are replaced by heavy traffic and dense residential areas, and combined forming the new major sources of air pollution. Previously, environmental issues used to be considered as technical and/or economical issues, but in the recent years these issues have been also considered as social issues. Studying the society attitude towards the environmental issues attracted more social scientific attention and more public concern, and as a result for this development a new social scientific field appeared called ‘environmental sociology’, which examines the social aspects of the environmental problems. Exploring people’s perception towards environmental issues is a field covered by this science (Tuna, 2004).

Since the 1970s, great efforts have been made to understand public perception to pollution in general, specifically air pollution, because the public represent the major player in determining the future programs and legislations. Such programs and laws are of great significance to many parties involving with the problem of air pollution such as the normal people, environment scientists, health professionals and law makers. Improving air quality is a complicated process has to be governed by programs and laws initiated by decision makers, local or international authorities, who are influenced people demands (Elshout, 2007). People’s perception to the problem may change according to the time, place and the characteristics of their culture. Therefore improving air quality should be a renewal continuous process to follow alterations in people’s lifestyle (Chen, et al, 2011). The problem of air pollution in the Norwegian major cities is increasingly taking more public attention in the last decades. For that reason, an investigation of public perception to air pollution in Norway is a major concern of this project.

1.2 The problem of air quality in Oslo

Oslo is the capital of Norway with population of more than 630,000 residents. The geographical area of the city is 450 km2, where only third of this area is urbanized and the rest is remained as forests, lakes and small islands in the fjord that is embracing the city (URL2). Oslo has variant air quality both seasonally and geographically. Air quality in summer is relatively good at all parts, but in winter air quality is different over the city. The topography area of Oslo is enclosed by surrounding hills that give the city the shape of a large bowl. The lower inner parts of the city during winter are often suffering of air quality deterioration. On the other hand, the hillsides persist with acceptable levels of air quality even in winter (URL3). The topography of Oslo is the main reason of creating air inversion during winter times. Inversion happens when the cold air downtown is trapped by warmer air that is higher up, and little or no wind to bring fresh air. Therefore, the air over the city becomes contaminated by local smoke mainly from vehicles exhausts and wood burning fireplaces in the center of the city and over the main roads. Air quality over these areas is poor to moderate on 30-45% of all days in winter, and very poor air quality only on up to 3% of all days in winter (URL4).

Air pollution is any material or substance that is emitted to the atmosphere by human activities or natural sources and has adverse impacts on humans, animals, plants or the environment (Marquit, 2008). This pollution is released to the air of Oslo by two major sources, road traffic and wood burning stoves. Traffic is the largest source for air pollution which is contributed to 50-70% of the total air pollution per cent. The use of studded tires during the winter is aggravating the problem (URL4).

In the recent years, Oslo City enforced fee (from 1st of November to 27th of April) for the vehicles that are using studded tires to improve air quality (URL5), because studded tires tear up the asphalt layer and produce airborne particles. A vehicle with studded tires can generate up to 100 times more particles that a vehicle with normal tires (Amundsen, Klæboe & Fyhri, 2008). Despite this approach by Oslo City, many vehicles are still using the studded tires after paying the fee, especially the vehicles that are passing through Oslo (Snilsberg, 2008). The second source of air pollution is households heating by using wood burning stoves which forms up to 50% of air pollution in the city as an essential contributor to increase the levels of particulate matters during winter.

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Figure 1: Geographical distribution map showing the levels of NO2 pollution in Oslo City during winter day with an inversion (URL3).

There are more than 63,000 wood burning stoves are used in Oslo (URL6), and during the very low temperature days these wood burning stoves can be the largest source of air pollution. There are also other sources for air pollution inside Oslo such as industrial operations, public service, ships and railway traffic. These sources are considered to be minor sources as compared with the share of traffic and heating by wood burning stoves (Oftedal, 2009). Other important sources of air pollution are the transported pollution from industrial emissions located outside Oslo or pollutants from European countries, which still represent a great pressure in the whole Norwegian environment (URL7).

Regarding the high levels of air pollutants in the Norwegian cities, as shown in figure (2), Snilsberg in his study (2008) claimed that more than 850,000 of those who live in the urban areas in Norway experience daily inconvenience due to air pollution. In addition, the long term exposure to air pollution reduces peoples’ resistance to respiratory infections, and that is confirmed by Kolbenstvedt, Solheim and Amundsen, in their study in 2000 in Norway. They based their argument on the increasing numbers of asthma and allergic reactions in the polluted areas (Kolbenstvedt, Solheim and Amundsen, 2000). Moreover, Rosendhal (2000) indicated in his study that around 2200 death in Norway are linked with long term exposure to high levels of particulate matters in the cities. According to the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, there are nearly 200,000 Norwegians have the potential to be infected with chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Diseases (COPD), and air pollution is playing a significant role in this problem (URL8). While, according to the Norwegian State of Environment, air pollution is hasten the death of 500-2000 people every year (URL7).

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Figure 2: Number of exceedances of PM10 target levels in Oslo and other major cities from 2004 to 2010 (URL7).

About 70% of the Norwegian population lives in the big cities such as Oslo, Bergen, Stavanger and Trondheim, where most of economic activities occur. Air quality in these cities has improved substantially since the 1990s because of the recent national Norwegian and European policies. The new policies led to clear the visual and noticeable air pollution (dust, smoke and smog) and improve air quality. None the less, the local air pollution in the big cities is still affecting many people, and some pollutants levels are still exceeded during winter season and early spring time (URL1). According to the study made by Kolbenstvedt and Klæboe in 2002, more than 20% of the general Norwegian public is irritated by air pollution (Kolbenstvedt & Klæboe, 2002). Definitely, this per cent will be higher in the recent years due to the increase of traffic and populated area density. Road traffic is considered by most people, the major cause of air pollution irritation. In the eastern part of Oslo (Alna, Grorud and Stovner), approximately 70% of the residents have concerns about the long term health effects of air pollution. While 40% of Oslo city dwellers, who live in the residential areas that are close to dense roads with more than 10,000 vehicles per day, stated that they are very irritated by air pollution (Amundsen, Klæboe & Fyhri, 2008). Those people are the major player in determining future programs and influence decision making to counter air pollution. Therefore, any community has a primary task to stimulate public acceptance for their responsibility to take action resulting in improving air quality (Bickerstaff, 2004).

1.3 Aims and objective of the study

Generally, there is sufficient information that the Norwegian public has adequate awareness about the common health effects of exposure to polluted air. However, there is little information about public perception specifically towards air pollution from traffic or near roadside environments, and how this is can be linked with transportation patterns of individuals (Amundsen, Klæboe & Fyhri, 2008). Therefore, the aims of this study are to evaluate public perception towards air pollution and health effects associated with it among the residents of Oslo City in Norway; by investigating the level of residents’ awareness, and concerns, in addition to their behaviors that may contribute positively or negatively to air quality in the city.

The objectives that are used to achieve the study aims:

- Introduction: to provide a background to the subject, the problem and present aims of the project.
- Literature review: to review the existing and established researches regarding the project.
- Questionnaire method: to collect data regarding public perception towards air pollution.
- Results: these are calculated by using SPSS program.
- Discussion: to analyze the results.
- Conclusions: to summarize the findings and discuss the fulfillment of the aims of this project.

Chapter 2

2.0 Literature review

2.1 Definition of public perception

Sensing and avoiding harmful environmental condition is a substantial ability for survival of all living organisms. Survival is also assisted by the ability of codifying and learning from the previous experience (Slovic, 2000). In addition to these abilities, humans also have the ability to change their surrounding environment, and this specific ability can create and/or reduce risks (Slovic & Peters, 2006). To explore the field of public risk perception there has been a remarkable increasing in the researches that are interested in this field (Slovic, 2000). Currently the problem of air pollution represents a crucial risk facing humanity, and therefore some researches took different trends to explain the problem from the concept of understanding people’s perception towards air pollution adverse impacts and solutions. Reaching evident understanding to people’s perception can be an essential approach to achieve successful individual’s involvement in solving the problem. Decision making is also required people’s involvement regarding new technologies or adopting alternative management methods that may reduce the pollution or eliminate pollution sources (Saksena, 2007). Public perception studies are defined by Slovic in his study (2000) as ‘the judgments make by people when asked to describe or estimate hazardous activities, situations or technologies’ (Slovic, 2000). Public perception itself is defined by Hunter, Hatch and Johnson (2004) as ‘the degree to which individuals are aware of the problems concerning the environment, and support the efforts to solve them and/or show that they have tendency to contribute personally to the solution’ (Hunter, Hatch and Johnson, 2004).

2.2 History of perception studies

The first survey to estimate public opinion was conducted in the United State in 1965 by the State of Californian Department of Public Health to assess the social and psychological measures towards air pollution. Followed by several public opinion surveys carried out in the United State between 1960 and 1970 to measure the level of people’s awareness of air pollution amalgamated with hope to establish a connection between air pollution problem which is measured by people’s perception towards it and by the impacts on health and normal living activities that people perform daily (Bickerstaff K. & Walker G., 2001). After 1970s until the late 1990s there were not many studies covering the subject of public perception towards air pollution, and the reason for that is probably because of the serious action from the governments to implement policies and to enforce laws. Another reason for the reduction in number of researches is the recent studies started to pay attention more about other environmental issues such as public awareness to global warming, pesticides, waste and recycling, etc (Saksena, 2007).

In the recent years, the studies that are covering public awareness and air pollution brought up again due to two main reasons. The first reason was due to the introduction of new procedure, the use of qualitative methodology, which can be conducted alone (Bush, Moffatt & Dunn, 2001) or combined with the quantitative method in one research (Bickerstaff, Simmons & Pidgeon, 2006 and Gallin & Williams, 2014). The new methodology recognized the influential part of culture and politics on developing the perceptions as well as the contradiction in how people think and act. The second reason was based on the findings of epidemiological and toxicological studies which led to new evidence concerning the effects of air pollution on human health, specially the findings on the adverse impacts of particulate matters on human health such as allergy, asthma, lung diseases (Franck, et al, 2011), lung cancer (Kelly & Fussell, 2012) and heart problems (Dominici, et al, 2006). The modern researches of public perception about air pollution are divided into two categories according to their objectives. First type includes the researches with objectives to improve official risk communication (Jahnich M, 2005 and Elshout, 2007). The second type includes the researches that are aiming to explain how awareness is influenced by social and cultural factors, such as age, gender, education, income and ethnicity (Day, 2004 and Gallin & Williams, 2014).

2.3 Limitation/problems with the previous studies

All the studies (Elliot, et al, 1999, Bianco, et al, 2007, Badland & Duncan, 2009 and Gallin & Williams, 2014) that examined air pollution from the view of the public had a common aim. The aim was to evaluate the level of awareness among the public about air pollution.

The methodologies adopted by these studies were mostly quantitative questionnaires and opinion polls. Therefore, and according to Saksena (2007) these researches couldn’t include all the aspects such as time, place, culture effects and history of perception, which made these studies showing some fluctuation and inconsistency in their final findings. For example, the relation between public awareness and time was missing in most of these studies. A study was conducted in Toronto, Canada between 1967 and 1987 to examine time effect on public perception towards air pollution, has shown that there is a decline in perception with time due to the raise of other socio-economic problems (Saksena, 2007). However, people create their perception to air pollution over a long period of time, and the rapid increasing or variances in air pollution levels may unlikely to have an impact on perception (Day, 207).

Also there wasn’t much focus on the history or the source of perception whether if the person has developed his/her awareness from direct perceptual experience with air pollutants or from knowledge obtained by education or media exposure (Bickerstaff & Walker, 2001). Bush, Moffatt and Dunn (2001) argued that historical presence of air pollution in an area (because of industries or other pollution sources) can lead to continual negative perception to that place as polluted or/and unhealthy even if air quality standards improved in this place (Bush, Moffatt and Dunn, 2001). Moreover, the place factor plays an important role in determine any study outcomes and even in one place the outcomes may vary because air pollution is not equally distributed. Measurements of air pollution levels show its unequal distribution, and these measures can be mapped to report the spatial interaction between population and air pollution levels (Chen, et al, 2011). Day examined in her study (2007) the role of place and the uneven geographical distribution of air pollution in four neighborhoods in one area to the north of London, and she found that public perception is influenced by the distance of pollution sources to each neighborhood and land elevation which made residents to perceive less awareness to air pollution.

Moreover, the presence of trees and greenery and their density also influenced people’s perception because these trees were held to have an effective part in cleaning the air and generating oxygen, which improve air quality. Therefore, the negative role of traffic might balance out by the positive impacts of the trees (Day, 2007). It is necessary to focus on the characteristics of the place, as well as of people, to develop better understanding to public perception towards air pollution (Howel, et al, 2003). For example Elliot and her group (1999) in a case study conducted in Ontario, Canada, mentioned that economical problems led to lower perception to air pollution as a problem, and people’s concern replaced by other concerns such as decreasing house prices (Elliot, et al, 1999). Similar results found by Howel and her group (2002), in a study conducted in Teeside, England, they found that though people’s concern towards air pollution is still high, the concern towards crime and unemployment has the priority over air pollution (Howle, et al, 2002).

2.4 Mixed perceptions

It is also worth noting that the studies that discussed public awareness have showed some controversial results. For example, the study that is made by Howel and her group (2003) claimed that most people consider vehicles are the major source of air pollution in urban areas (Howel, et al, 2003). On the other hand, Bickerstaff & Walker (1999) stated in their study that individuals’ opinion regarding the vehicles weren’t equal because people sometimes try to avoid the direct blame to their lifestyle or shifting the problem from their responsibilities by pointing to other polluters as main cause for the problem such as busses or industries (Bickerstaff & Walker, 1999). However, the studies (Bickerstaff & Walker, 1999 and Howel, et al, 2003) have shown that people commonly perceive industrial operations as a significant source of air pollution. Public perception to how industries affect air pollution is mainly governed by their historical memories of the previous industrial era which is built on the heavy industries and the smoke flying out from industrial chimneys. This image is very common in media and social display of environmental hazards (Bickerstaff, 2004). By this traditional image which is made by culture to the industries, people’s perception can be easily deflected and create a positive perception towards a chocolate factory, though it is a source of air pollution, as compared to an oil refinery or beer factory (Saksena, 2007).

Cole and his group (1999) suggested that people’s perception to air pollution is associated positively with practical daily experience, where both vision and smell play an important role in developing individual awareness. People’s sensory visual perception to air pollution becomes evident with the higher levels of suspended particles in the air within specific size ranges. Thus, people’s perception and concern increase towards air pollution with the presence of visual dust, odorous fumes and pre-existing symptoms such as eye irritation, fatigue, frequent colds, etc (Cole, et al, 1999). Most toxic pollutants are difficult to identify because they are colorless, tasteless and odorless, for that the majority of the public have no awareness of its potential dangers. According to that, people have no or weak perception to the gases that are released by vehicles (e.g. particulate matters, nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides and carbon monoxide which is colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas) until they accumulate and form a layer of haze or smog which deteriorates air quality and reduces visibility (Marquit, 2008). A small number of studies (Rotko, et al, 2002 and Day, 2007) focused on the relation between public perception and physical characteristics of air pollution. The experts depend on these characteristics primarily and that what makes their perception to the problems differ from the perception of general public. Saksena (2007) stated that separately from soci-demographic variables, there is a linear relation between public perception of visible air pollution and physical indicators such as color and contrast in a landscape. Therefore, as compared to other pollutants high concentrations of ground level ozone and air clarity were more associated with perceive air pollution (Saksena, 2007). The environmental base line condition of air quality is also found to be an essential part in shaping human perception, for example people who are used to live in relatively low air quality may be less reactive to additional deterioration in air quality, or people who are used to live in very low air quality may change their perception if they notice any slightly improve in air quality even if the current air quality is still poor (Bickerstaff & Walker, 2001; Day, 2007 and Chen, et al, 2001)

People may also develop their perception towards air pollution from the density of pollution sources such as heavy traffic roads and cluster of industries, or they gain their perception from other noticeable effects on their surrounding environment such as the effects of air pollution on building and materials or on color and growth of vegetation (Bickerstaff & Walker, 2001). It has also been observed that shaping of perception is determined by local knowledge which is gained by social interaction (Cole, et al, 1999). In addition, people may start to develop an actual concern towards potential pollution when polluters get in direct contact with the individual personal and social borders.

55 of 55 pages


Public Perception and Individual Contribution Towards Air Quality in Oslo, Norway. A Critical Evaluation
University of Sunderland  (University of Sunderland, Faculty of Applied Science)
Master Program in Environment, Health and Safety
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ISBN (Book)
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Environment, Air Quality, Public Perception, Air Pollution, Environmental behavior of the individuals, Oslo, Norway, environmental pollution, pollution perception
Quote paper
Zaidoon Alsaeed (Author), 2014, Public Perception and Individual Contribution Towards Air Quality in Oslo, Norway. A Critical Evaluation, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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