Cascadians on both sides of the U.S.-Canadian border share a deep connection to our temperate corner of the world. But if national polling data is any indication of regional opinion, we may not necessarily share the same views when it comes to the fate of our piece of the planet—or even of the planet itself. Public opinion polling in the two countries shows a boundary between perceptions almost as stark as the national border drawn on a political map.
In recent polling by Gallup and Pew, Americans display little concern about the environment and global warming—far less, as it turns out, than their Canadian counterparts.
Gallup numbers, released Jan. 25, 2007:The environment scores a whopping 2% when Americans are asked to name the country’s top problem. The clear choice is Iraq: 36% of Americans volunteer Iraq as the nation’s top concern. No other single problem rates above 8% as a primary concern.
Pew numbers, released Jan. 22: Similarly, when asked in an open-ended format to name the most important problem facing the country, the environment doesn’t even register. And again, 42% of the public volunteers the Iraq war as their top concern.
Canadians, on the other hand, seem to have more fully grasped the gravity of the situation.
Find this article interesting? Support more research like this with a gift!
Canadians report the environment as the number one problem they face, and their concern appears to be growing:
An opinion survey by Decima Research, released Jan. 4, 2007, finds that:
- The environment has become the most frequently mentioned preoccupation of Canadians: 19% say it is the issue that concerns them personally the most (more than any other issue), followed by health care at 13%.
- Concern has increased: the environment gained 13 points since the same question was asked in September, 2006.
- The environment is rated the top issue in almost every part of the country. Men and women alike cite the environment as the top concern, as well as every age and income group. It is the number one issue for those who voted Liberal (22%), NDP (27%), Green (35%), or Bloc (30%) in the last election. Among those who voted Conservative, the environment is in second place, with 12%.
These numbers are significant considering the 21-page report on climate change (PDF)—the result of a dozen years of study by hundreds of researchers from more than 100 nations—released in Paris by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last week. The IPCC puts to rest the so-called debate about both the reality and the crisis-level significance of global warming. The word they use is “unequivocal.”
Americans are understandably distracted by the war in Iraq, but it looks to be high time for the U.S. (the single largest contributor to global warming, producing about a quarter of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions even though it accounts for about 4.5% of its population) to catch up with Canada (the world’s eighth largest producer of carbon dioxide, with one half of one percent of the world’s population) in taking the long view and reprioritizing our top concerns.
That Americans fail to take the long view in their opinions on opened-ended questions like this does not necessarily surprise me. Nor does a related (though not obviously so) issue of how American’s perceived the Gore candidacy. I haven’t seen evidence of this, but it seems that many Americans regarded Gore as a one-issue candidate. Environmentalists such as the ones who post on this blog would probably scoff at such a characterization. After all, how we treat the world around us has ramifications for almost every other political question we may seek to answer.At this time, those connections need to be highlighted and reinforced in the public debate. The research pointed to here would seem to indicate that we have a lot of work to do in that department.
Americans are separated by wealth from the effects of their actions. Until we get out of our boxes and reconnect, or until our actions hit us in our pocketbook, not much will change. Our market system must pay full price for our action/consumption for anything to change.
I think this is almost as loose a use of statistics as that pedestrian safety article that Eric linked to. You’re writing about it as if the #1 concern is the only thing that can get any attention, which is quite clearly false.I couldn’t find anything in the Gallup article about peoples’ second choices, or how they respond when asked specifically about the environment, but there was a direct equivalent with Iraq: “Also, while only 36% of Americans mention the war in Iraq as a top problem, 6 out of 10 (61%) oppose it.”–this shows that the number listing issue XYZ as a “top priority” can fall way short of the number having a strong opinion on it. The question they should really have asked was “Do you consider XYZ to be one of the top issues facing your country?” for each XYZ in turn.The Pew study is actually quite a lot better, and breaks down its figures more usefully. There we see that while the top issue is “Defending the US against terrorism”, 57% of respondents rated “Protecting the environment” as one of the top issues. When forced to artificially respond in a zero-sum manner the respondents answered very similarly to the Gallup poll—with 42% saying Iraq was the singular top issue and no more than 8% picking anything else—but when allowed to list a set of top priorities the responses came across as far more sensible.