In U.S., Many Environmental Issues at 20-Year-Low Concern

Gallup logo Just the other day I linked to Gallup's report that Americans' concern for global warming continues to decline. Today, Gallup has released some more from their annual environmental poll. Key findings include a drop in concern on eight environmental issues including water pollution, air pollution, the decline of rain forests, loss of species and global warming. Americans continue to be the least worried about global warming in comparison to other major environmental issues.

Posted Mar. 16, 2010
By Gallup

Americans are less worried about each of eight specific environmental
problems than they were a year ago, and on all but global warming and
maintenance of the nation's fresh water supply, concern is the lowest
Gallup has measured. Americans worry most about drinking-water
pollution and least about global warming.
Gallup1

Over time, Americans' concerns about environmental problems have
generally declined. After this year's drop, for six of the eight items,
the percentage who worry "a great deal" is at the lowest point Gallup
has measured, which in some cases dates to 1989. The two exceptions are
global warming (low point was 24% in 1997) and maintenance of the
nation's fresh water supply for household needs (35% in 2001).

One major reason Americans may be less worried about environmental problems is that they perceive environmental conditions in the United States to be improving.

The decline in worry over time has been rather dramatic for some of
these threats. For example, in 1989, 72% of Americans said they worried
a great deal about pollution of rivers, lakes, and reservoirs. Worry
about this environmental issue averaged 62% in the 1990s, 54% in the
2000s, and is 46% today.

Gallup2 Similarly, there has been a 25-point drop since 1989 in the percentage
worried a great deal about air pollution, and an equal drop in worry
about contamination of soil and water by toxic waste.

Gallup3Not all environmental problems show the same general downward trend
over time. For example, concerns about global warming and loss of
tropical rain forests were higher in 2000 than they had been prior to
that. Concerns about both issues subsequently eased, before rising
again until 2007. Now concerns are declining once again, including a
sharp nine-point drop this year in concern about rain forests.

Gallup4

Gallup earlier reported declines in concern about global warming on several of its other long-term-trend questions.

Water Pollution Usually of Greatest Concern

Typically, Americans express greater concern about threats to water
safety and quality than about other environmental issues. This year,
the top four concerns all deal with water. Pollution of drinking water
again is the top concern, and has been each year it has been included
in the list of environmental problems. The year it was not (1989),
pollution of rivers, lakes, and reservoirs was the top concern.

Gallup5

Bottom Line

Americans are now less worried about a series of environmental
problems than at any time in the past 20 years. That could be due in
part to Americans' belief that environmental conditions in the U.S. are
improving. It also may reflect greater public concern about economic issues,
which is usually associated with a drop in environmental concern. And
greater action on environmental issues at the federal, state, and local
levels may also contribute to a decline in Americans' environmental
worry.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with a random sample of
1,014 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted March 4-7, 2010.
For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say
with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4
percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones
(for respondents with a landline telephone) and cellular phones (for
respondents who are cell-phone only).

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical
difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the
findings of public opinion polls.

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