Published on April 12th, 2013 | by Joshua S Hill12
Americans Are Slowly Reprioritising Their Environmental Concern
April 12th, 2013 by Joshua S Hill
As has been made abundantly clear here on CleanTechnica, I love Gallup polls.In fact, it can probably be said that I love all polls. I find the information they impart to be utterly fascinating, especially as I have been covering certain polls for several years in a row, therefore allowing me a birds-eye view of specific trends.
One such trend has been the level of concern Americans have for global warming, as depicted in Gallup’s yearly Environmental poll.
I have not generally been kind to Americans in the last few years, given their decreasing concern for the environment, and in particular global warming. Concerns have trended towards the selfish, a point of view I distaste.
Two years ago I wrote an article entitled ‘Americans Characteristically Uninformed About Climate Change‘ in the wake of that years’ Environmental poll. When asked “How much do you personally worry about global warming?” those who worried “a great deal” and “fair amount” had reached an almost all-time low of 51% of respondents. The lowest had been a response of only 50% in 1998, compared with 72% two years later.
This year, respondents in the 2013 Environmental poll were asked the same question, and the continuing growth in concern has continued. 2012 showed 55% were worrying “a great deal” and “a fair amount” while this year that number has jumped up to 58%. They aren’t great numbers, but they are growing numbers.
More specifically, 33% of Americans worry about global warming “a great deal,” 25% worry “a fair amount,” 20% “only a little,” and 23% “not at all.” That last number is somewhat terrifying, and somewhat representative of a continuing segment of the American population’s attitudes towards global warming, and the environment as a whole.
One could be tempted to look back a week or so to this past report from Gallup which showed that, when it came down to the crunch, Americans were more likely to prioritise economic growth over environmental protection, and of that majority, Republicans predominated. However, Gallup likes to ‘Bottom Line’ their reports with comments like “Gallup trends throughout the past decade — and some stretching back to 1989 — have shown generally consistent majority support for the idea that global warming is real, that human activities cause it, and that news reports on it are correct, if not underestimated.” That being said, however, they amend that statement immediate by adding that “those views have shown significant variability.”
Realistically, the average is made up of times of peak fear and peak complacency, rather than any actual average made up of similar numbers. The reality of the situation is that the population is mostly broken into thirds: one third who believe there is a problem and something needs to be done, another third who believe it’s all a hoax and the economy should be receiving any and all moneys being directed towards environmental protection, and a final third who have no real clue what is going on and just wish people would stop asking them important questions.
Further Poll Conclusions
Whether or not Gallup are wrapping up their coverage of this latest Environmental poll or not, I’m unsure, but the press release which heralded the mediocre American concern for the environment also included some other findings which are in line with my three-thirds breakdown of the American populace.
When Will We Notice Global Warming’s Effects
Respondents were asked when they thought we would start to see the effects of global warming. Putting aside the absurdity of asking the average anyone when the effects of global warming will become evident, the results were interesting. 54% of respondents said that the effects of global warming had already begun (which, I realise, throws my three-thirds breakdown out the window), 27% believe that they will happen at a future time, while a measly 15% believe they will never take place.
Global Warming in the Media
Interestingly, and a little closer to my three-thirds breakdown, Americans are starting to get a better grip on just how poorly global warming is represented in the media. 41% — down from 48% in 2010 — believe that the reports of global warming in the news are exaggerated, while conversely 33% — up from 25% in 1010 — believe that such news reports are underestimated. Rounding out the mix are 24% of respondents who believe that the news reporting is correct.
Whether or not that has to do with the increase in genuinely good reporting or simply a shift in the perception of the average American is unknown, but this result is linked to the next one, which surveyed the perception of what people think scientists agree upon.
As you can see in the graph above, 62% of respondents believe that most scientists agree that global warming is occurring. That’s up from 52% in 2010 — which we’ve already seen (above) was a bad year for the environment, a fact that could be directly related to the economic downturn that peaked in previous years. 28% of respondents thought that most scientists are unsure about global warming, down fro 36% in 2010, while a woeful 6% are of the impression that most scientists believe global warming isn’t happening.
To which I would suggest that those in the 6% are living in the hills of Montana and were caught burgling a respondents house at the time of the phone call. But that’s just a theory.
Primary Cause of Global Warming
Another continuing trend in favour of the environment is the average Americans’ understanding of what is causing global warming. 57% said that human activities are the primary cause for global warming, while 39% — continuing it’s downward trend from 2010 — believe that the current warming is simply a result of natural cyclical shifts in the planet’s orbit.
The Absurd Conclusion
Yet, despite all of the ground that the environment has made in the public perception, the finale belies all of the previous results. When asked whether global warming would ever be a threat in their lifetime, respondents confirmed all my fears and anxieties about the general public perception — and more specifically, the lackadaisical nature of Americans in general.
64% — the fifth highest response — believe that global warming will not pose a serious threat during their lifetime, while 34 believe that it will. This figure is almost as low as it was in 2010, which runs contrary to everything we’ve read with regards to the general trend.
It means that the science of the situation has not been explained in a way that the average American — or, for that matter, the average anyone — can understand. It means that laziness is predominant, and that the public perception of global warming has been hamstrung by politics, allegiance, and faulty news reporting.