Concern for climate change is up globally from where it was a decade ago, but overall concern for other environmental issues has reached a 20-year low, notes a new report based on a multi-country survey.
The GlobeScan Radar annual tracking poll surveyed citizens across 22 countries during the second half of last year. A total of 22,812 people were interviewed face-to-face or by telephone, and 12 of the countries included have been regularly polled on environmental issues since 1992.
The poll asked participants how serious they consider each of six environmental problems to be, including air pollution, water pollution, species loss, automobile emissions, fresh water shortages and climate change.
Few of those people consider most of those issues to be “very serious,” compared to when the tracking poll began 20 years ago.
The exception was climate change, where concern has increased from where it was between 1998 and 2003, the GlobeScan notes.
Many of the biggest falls in concern have been over the past two years, it suggests. “The perceived seriousness of climate change has fallen particularly sharply since the unsuccessful UN Climate Summit in Copenhagen in December 2009,” GlobeScan says.
“Climate concern dropped first in industrialized countries, but this year’s figures show that concern has now fallen in major developing economies such as Brazil and China as well.”
However, despite the decline, the majority of participants still consider several of the issues to be “very serious,” according to GlobeScan.
Water pollution was rated by 58% to be very serious, while climate change is viewed by 49% to be very serious.
“Scientists report that evidence of environmental damage is stronger than ever—but our data shows that economic crisis and a lack of political leadership mean that the public are starting to tune out,” commented Doug Miller, GlobeScan’s chairman.
“Those who care about mobilizing public opinion on the environment need to find new messages in order to reinvigorate a stalled debate.”
The environment a low priority globally
Results from a separate series of surveys conducted by the International Social Survey Programme (ISSP) in 33 countries from 1993 through 2010 suggest that the environment is a low priority for many.
Participants were five times more likely to rank the economy as a priority over the environment, notes a statement on the findings from the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago.
In the surveys, respondents were asked the relative importance of eight issues including healthcare, education, crime, the environment, immigration, the economy, terrorism and poverty.
The environment did not make the top of the list in any country over the 17-year period, while the economy and healthcare ranked high on average among the countries included.
In the United States, the economy ranked as the highest concern, while concern for the environment ranked sixth.
The paper resulting from the surveys, “Public Attitudes towards Climate Change and Other Global Environmental Issues across Time and Countries, 1993-2010,” was recently presented at a policy workshop at Carleton University in Ottawa. The presentation is available on NORC’s website.