Earth Day presents headline writers with all sorts of great opportunities, especially on stories concerning public opinion and global warming. “Cooling on Global Warming” is a particular favorite of mine. But the polling coming out of this Earth Day presents a muddled picture of attitudes about the environment, particularly global warming. Headline writers probably are going to have a tough go of it.
There’s certainly some good news for climate change advocates. Belief in global warming is up. In 2009, a low of 57% told Pew pollsters that there is solid evidence that the Earth is warming. That response has gradually risen over the last four years. Now, 69% agree that there is solid evidence. Attitudes are again approaching pre-recession levels.
Then there’s the bad news for climate change advocates. Americans are less inclined to want to do anything about of climate change. In Pew’s latest poll, 33% said it was a serious problem. Last year, 39% gave that response. As a policy priority, the issue ranks low as well. NBC/WSJ presented respondents with a list of issues for Obama and Republicans to work together on. Global warming ranked at the bottom.
Concerns about the economy are tempering concern over climate change. According to Gallup, a plurality of 48% believes that economic growth should be given priority even if the environment suffers to some extent. Forty-three percent believed the opposite. Since global warming regularly ranks at the bottom of the list of environmental issues people are concerned about, the fact that Americans aren’t inclined to treat global warming as a serious problem comes as no surprise.
Even still, the results above suggest that Americans don’t automatically leap from concern to government action. People prioritize policy concerns, but don’t ignore problems. And while there are still many who have their doubts about global warming, belief in climate change does not necessarily mean the government must do something about it. The development should be watched closely by those who lament “do-something-ism” in government policy making. The development also points to what I think is the right headline for Earth Day. “Global warming a concern for many, a priority for a few.” Catchy stuff.