Nature and Biodiversity

What do Americans think about the environment?

Kevin Dennehy
Communications Officer, Yale
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The Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES) has released the initial findings from its first environmental poll conducted as part of a new partnership with the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

The report indicates that most Americans say the United States should take a leadership role in combating global warming. Moreover, twice as many Americans think the country should participate in international climate treaty negotiations, compared to those who oppose such participation. A majority of Americans say environmental protections will improve economic growth and provide new jobs. However, Americans tend to place a low priority on addressing global warming when compared with other environmental concerns.

The poll, which surveyed a nationally representative sample of 1,578 American adults, is the first in what survey partners say will be an annual poll of Americans about their environment-related opinions and behaviors.

The initiative builds on Yale F&ES’s commitment to opinion polling, which since 2007 has centered largely on issues related to public perceptions of climate change.

“Public understanding of environmental issues — from global warming to water pollution to the loss of biodiversity — is more important than ever, as many Americans work to create a more sustainable future,” said Anthony Leiserowitz, a research scientist and faculty member at F&ES. “Policies are being considered at the national, state, and local levels, and Americans are increasingly adopting environmentally friendly lifestyles. This new poll will help inform these vital decisions.”

The AP-NORC Center is a collaboration of the Associated Press and NORC at the University of Chicago. Created in 2011, the center taps into the power of social science research and the highest-quality journalism to bring key information to people across the nation and throughout the world.

The Yale partnership is the center’s first initiative focused specifically on environmental issues.

“We are delighted to work with our colleagues at Yale to explore Americans’ opinions on the environment,” said Trevor Tompson, NORC vice president and director of the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. “Public opinion about the environment is complex and often misunderstood. With this partnership we hope to bring a scientifically rigorous approach to inform journalists, policymakers and the public about what the American people really believe about environmental issues and how those beliefs translate into policy preferences and consumer choices.”

The new partnership was established to conduct rigorous and innovative research on the American public’s perspectives on enduring and current environmental issues.

Some key findings from the first poll include:

  • Fifty-six percent of Americans believe global warming is happening and 20% believe it is not happening. Almost a quarter, 23%, are unsure.
  • About twice as many Americans favor U.S. participation in international climate negotiations as oppose it.
  • A majority of Americans say environmental protections will improve economic growth and provide new jobs in the long run.

See the complete results.

“We are excited to work with the AP-NORC Center, which combines the resources of a great research institution and the tremendous reach of the Associated Press,” said Geoff Feinberg, a research director at F&ES. “Together we will employ best-practice research methods to provide the public and policymakers an objective picture of American environmental attitudes and behavior.”

This article is published in collaboration with Yale News. Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum. 

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Author: Kevin Dennehy is a Communications Officer at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies

Image: A large cloud gathers over the skyline of San Francisco. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith 

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