Prof. surveys environmental attitudes
Apr. 04, 2008
Although awareness of global warming is on the rise, the American public is more concerned with local and national environmental issues, according to results from a survey conducted by an MU professor.
Public affairs assistant professor David Konisky surveyed 1,000 adults about their attitudes toward the environment. The survey asked participants about their level of concern for the environment, political beliefs and whether they prefer government action to address environmental issues. Konisky said he conducted the study because there has been a lot of interest on the issue but many studies are too general.
“The poll Gallup does every year pays attention to a lot less issues,” he said.
Participants were asked to characterize their overall concern for the environment, and 70 percent said they were “somewhat concerned” or “very concerned.” After that, they were surveyed on how much effort the government should put into addressing 12 different issues. The majority of those surveyed said they supported more government action on each issue presented. Protecting community drinking water sources; reducing pollution of the nation’s rivers, lakes and ecosystems; and reducing urban air pollution issues such as smog were the top three ranked issues concerning the public. Reducing emissions that contribute to global warming and preserving damage to the earth’s ozone layer ranked eighth and ninth, respectively.
Konisky’s study found that though the public is aware of global warming, local and national issues ranked highest among respondents’ support for government action.
“People are hesitant to support efforts concerning global issues even though they believe that environmental quality is poorer at the global level than at the local and national level,” he said. “This is surprising given the media attention that global warming has recently received and reflects the division of opinion about the severity of climate change.”
The report also showed a disparity between the public’s belief of the quality of global environment and government response to those issues.
“Even though the public rated the quality of the global environment as lagging behind that of the national and local environment, on average, it is less enthusiastic about further government action to address global issues,” the report stated.
Konisky said people tend to prioritize the issues when presented as a comparison.
“When people are asked about global warming directly it seems strong majorities say they want some or immediate action to address it,” he said. “In our study, when compared with other issues, it takes a lesser priority.”
Sustain Mizzou President Ben Datema said he was not surprised by many of the results.
“Awareness doesn’t necessarily translate into concern or belief in the issues or an opinion the government needs to do anything,” Datema said. “I think it’s just natural that people are more concerned with the things that affect them more every day.”
Datema said Sustain Mizzou works on local issues, but those in turn could affect global issues.
“We do focus specifically on local issues in all our projects, but some of our local issues by nature impact global issues,” he said. “You could make the case that it’s a local issue because it affects everywhere, including Columbia.”
Further, Konisky chose to study the political ideology and party identification of the participants. According to the report, social scientists have consistently found younger, better educated and politically liberal individuals are more likely to have stronger concerns about the environment.
Because of this popular belief among social scientists, the study looked into these demographics and found that political attributes is the best predictor of individual preference toward the environment.
“The survey reinforced the stark differences in people’s environmental attitudes, depending on their political leaning,” Konisky said. “Democrats and political liberals clearly express more desire for governmental action to address environmental problems. Republicans and ideological conservatives are much less enthusiastic about further government intervention.”
Datema said he wishes political ideology were not so closely tied with issues of sustainability.
“These natural resources are a human right and not a political issue,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that it is so politicized.”