Americans’ actions don’t match ‘green’ attitudes

Stargazette_jpegOriginally posted Feb. 5, 2008
by Marilyn Elias, Star-Gazette.com

Just
a slim majority of Americans consider global warming "a very serious
problem," despite an avalanche of publicity on the issue, and many
aren’t even taking the "green" actions they support, a nationwide
survey suggests.

"Clearly,
there’s a lot left to do in raising awareness," says Edward Maibach,
senior author of the survey, who heads a center on climate change and
communication at George Mason University.

The
poll of more than 11,000 Americans, thought to be the largest ever done
on climate change, reveals a gulf between public perceptions and the
scientific consensus that the phenomenon poses threats. In the survey,
62 percent considered global warming a serious danger. Those who are
doing the most to reduce their own "carbon footprint" see the problem
and also believe their actions can make a difference.

There
is growing concern among behavior experts that "there has been too much
fear-mongering and not enough emphasis on what people can do," Maibach
says.

The survey, released Thursday, was commissioned by Porter Novelli, a marketing and communication firm.

Americans
endorse more "green" actions — steps such as buying fuel-efficient
cars, using less energy at home, recycling — than they’re doing,
Maibach says.

And there’s a huge
partisan divide: Democrats are about three times more likely than
Republicans to see high danger in global warming and think they can do
something about it. But Democrats are living only slightly more green
than Republicans.

An unusual step in
the poll was including about 1,000 children of the adults surveyed. The
children, in grades four to 12, were more likely to see global warming
as a threat but also more optimistic than adults that technology can
solve it.

Homes where kids and adults
agree that there’s a problem, and people can curb it, were taking the
most steps to reduce greenhouse gases, Maibach says. It’s not clear
who’s influencing whom, he adds.

Children
often nudge parents to use less energy, says Katherine Shea, a
pediatrician and public health professor at the University of North
Carolina at Chapel Hill. "Kids just get it," she says, "and they have
the science on their side."

About
three out of five adults agree "global warming is a threat to all life
on the planet." The rest are in denial, says Camille Parmesan, a
biologist at the University of Texas and an expert on the effects of
climate change. "It’s absolutely a threat. We don’t see a region or a
group of organisms that hasn’t been affected."

A
lack of action concerns Jack Williams, a geographer at the Center for
Climatic Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "There’s
strong scientific consensus that immediate action is needed because of
the long life of greenhouse gases."

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