2009 in Review: Public Opinion on the Environment

Greenway Communique logo Nathan Schock created an extremely detailed timeline of the polls and surveys regarding public opinion towards the environment in 2009. The data that Schock lists paints a picture that is not that positive for public support towards the environment. One piece of research that Schock leaves out is ecoAmerica's Climate and Energy Truths report. Truths remains an excellent tool for environmental communicators to use to find framing and messages that beat the opposition on climate.

Posted Jan. 7, 2010
By Nathan Schock, Greenway Communique

When I looked back on my tweets
for 2009, I found a lot on polls and surveys regarding public opinion
on the environment. Much of it was conflicting, so it's not surprising
that people are confused.

But
when you look back at the data in total you have to come to the
conclusion that it was not a particularly good year for environmental
advocates in the arena of public opinion. The economic downturn pushed
environmental issues further down the public priority list while belief
in and concern about global warming declined despite the ubiquity of
the subject in the news.

Considering how
important this subject is to sustainability communications, I've added
a section of links to this info on the sidebar and undertook a recap of
the major polls on the subject from 2009:
On December 23, Quinnipiac University released a poll
finding that "most voters say the U.S. should not sign a treaty
promising to reduce greenhouse gases, or should not sign such a treaty
unless other nations do the same."

A majority of respondents from Brazil, China, Germany, Japan, Russia, and the United States to a December 17 Gallup Poll
thought that developed and fast emerging economies should reduce
emissions simultaneously and that no group should be obligated to "go
first."

A December 7 Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found that only 15% of adults favored raising the gas tax. Even fewer said that was a good idea to implement a gas tax in order to encourage people to purchase more fuel-efficient cars.

On December 6, The Nielsen Company and the Oxford University Institute of Climate Change released the results of an online survey of 27,000 people showing a decline in concern for climate change. Slides here.

On December 2, Pew Research released survey data
showing that large majorities in every country surveyed believed that
global warming was a "serious problem," while majorities in 15 of the
25 thought it was "very serious." Majorities in 23 of the 25 countries
agreed with the statement: "Protecting the environment should be given
priority, even if it causes slower economic growth and some job
losses." Full study (with environmental issues section starting on page
87) can be found here.

Another survey released December 2, this one from Harris Interactive,
found that those who believe that "the release of carbon dioxide and
other gases will lead to global warming has dropped from 71% two years
ago to only 51% now."

Fewer Americans responding to a national survey
from the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press released
October 22 saw solid evidence of global warming. Pew Research offered
possible reasons for this steep decline here.

A July 9 survey
conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press in
collaboration with the American Association for the Advancement of
Science found that 70 percent of the American public had a high regard
for scientists while most scientist faulted the media for
oversimplifying their issues and failing to distinguish between
well-founded findings and those that are not.

In a July 1 national telephone survey
from Rasmussen Reports, 56 percent of Americans indicated that they
were not willing to pay more in taxes and higher utility fees to fight
global warming. Just over half said that keeping energy costs low was
more important than developing clean energy and 63 percent said it was
more important to create jobs than fight global warming.

The 2009 Greendex survey
from National Geographic found an increase in environmentally-friendly
consumer behavior in 13 of the 14 countries they surveyed in 2008. The
U.S. still ranked last of the 17 countries surveyed in 2009. Full study
available here (pdf).

A survey
of 1,006 people conducted in April and May by the Shelton Group found
that 60 percent of consumers were looking for green products but were
confused by what the different eco-labels.

On Earth Day, Gallup released a slew of data on polling they did in 127 countries in 2007 and 2008, revealing that:
A survey released April 3 from Public Agenda entitled "The Energy Learning Curve"
found that the public supported a wide variety of energy policies aimed
at increasing efficiency, reducing fossil fuel usage and increasing
alternative energy…as long as it didn't cost them more money.

A
majority of the public (59%) favored setting limits on carbon dioxide
emissions and making companies pay for their emissions, even if that
may mean higher energy prices, according to a national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press released March 25.

A survey (pdf) from the Yale Project on Climate Change and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication
found that 90 percent of the public wanted the United States to act to
reduce global warming but only 34 percent said that action should be "a
large scale effort" regardless of the economic costs.

A March 11, 2009 Gallup Poll
found that 41 percent of American's believe that global warming is
"Exaggerated" while 28 percent thought it was underestimated.

And the year started with a January 7-11 survey
of 1,503 people from Pew showing that the environment was 16th on the
public list of priorities while global warming was 20th and dead last.
Complete report here.

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