Global warming scare tactics aren’t working
by Ben Bullard
Americans are far more concerned about drinking polluted water than they are about policy initiatives to combat global warming and/or climate change, deforestation and species extinction — and they’re steadily losing interest in environmental frights of every stripe.
That’s according to the most recent iteration of Gallup’s annual Environment survey, which finds concern over “global warming” or “climate change” trailing concern over every other major environmental policy issue.
The survey found that 32 percent of Americans surveyed indicated a “great deal” of concern over the threat of “global warming or climate change,” down from 34 percent last year. Across five other categories ranging from “pollution of drinking water” to “the loss of tropical rain forests,” the percentage of Americans who worry a “great deal” has declined across the board since the 2014 survey:
Unsurprisingly, people appear to care more about environmental issues that have a demonstrable and immediate impact on their quality of life — what Gallup describes as “proximate threats” — far more than hypothetical scenarios of long-term environmental decline and abstract projections.
“Despite ups and downs from year to year in the percentage worried about the various issues, the rank order of the environmental problems has remained fairly consistent over the decades,” the survey summary states. “Americans express greater concern over more proximate threats — including pollution of drinking water, as well as pollution of rivers, lakes and reservoirs, and air pollution — than they do about longer-term threats such as global warming, the loss of rain forests, and plant and animal extinction.”
Gallup doesn’t attempt to stir the pot when it comes to policy initiatives, but it does make a general observation about the disconnect between the small number of fervid environmentalists advancing a far-reaching U.S. policy and the much greater number of workaday Americans who take a more pragmatic view of environmental risks.
The primary focus of the environmental movement has shifted toward long-term threats like global warming — issues about which Americans tend to worry less than about more immediate threats like pollution. Importantly, even as global warming has received greater attention as an environmental problem from politicians and the media in recent years, Americans’ worry about it is no higher now than when Gallup first asked about it in 1989.
A final factor is the politicization of environmental issues. This is exemplified by the sharp political polarization in views of global warming.
Republicans are predictably less concerned overall about perceived threats to the environment than are Democrats.
“[A]lthough concern about environmental issues is lower among both Republicans and Democrats since 2000, it is down more among Republicans,” Gallup reports. “Across the six issues measured in 2000 and 2015, the percentage of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents who worry ‘a great deal’ is down an average of 20 percentage points, compared with an average 10-point decline for Democrats and Democratic leaners.”
Read more on Gallup’s 2015 Environment survey here.