Like so many other complex issues, Americans don’t seem to understand global warming. In a Gallup poll conducted in March, respondents ranked their level of concern regarding several environmental issues. When asked to rank their level of concern over global warming, 36% of Americans claimed that it worried them “a great deal”.
Global warming, one of the most imminent environmental problems, ranked lower on people’s priorities than pollution of drinking water, pollution of lakes and rivers, maintenance of the nation’s supply of fresh water, and the hole in the ozone layer.
Clearly some people haven’t paid much attention to environmental problems over the years. Sure, the hole in the ozone layer still presents a problem, but since the global ban on its main cause, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), the severity of that particular situation has lessened greatly. Meanwhile, the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming continue to grow unchecked in the nations that emit the most, including of course the US.
And what of this water purity concern? How kind of Americans, who enjoy tap water more pure and safe than bottled, to fret over the water purity of the less privileged countries around the world. Yet somehow I suspect that the water purity of Third World countries doesn’t come to mind when Americans say that water purity and supply worries them. I can’t say for certain, but I imagine that Americans perceive their water purity as less than its (relatively) pristine reality. Perhaps the marketing of bottled waters, using crisp graphics of clean mountain streams and untainted ice drifts, has led me to this conclusion.
In another fit of environmental naiveté, Americans claim that they would happily take measures to better the world around them by walking, biking, and using mass transit more often, or by turning down the thermostat a few degrees and washing clothes in cold water (70% and 80%, respectively). These small sacrifices sound like a great step toward responsibility. But Americans don’t actually take these steps, for reasons unclear. Unless they expect some kind of national movement to initiate the use of mass transit, for example, people could begin to take the bus whenever they please. Shouldn’t the next step after declaring willingness to do something involve actually doing that something?
Conditions do not look optimistic, but hopefully An Inconvenient Truth and any media chatter it inspires will get Americans to actually think about global warming, and even more challenging, will get them to actually do something about it.