As I catch up on sustainability news, I came across this provocatively-titled story from Treehugger, titled "Americans Care More About Gay Marriage Than Global Warming."
It summarizes a new study:
Pollster American Environics studied American attitudes toward energy and the environment and found depressing results:
1) Americans overwhelmingly believe that global warming is occurring.
2) They don't care. "dealing with global warming" came 20th out of 23 policy priorities.
3) They won't give anything up. The cost of energy is more important than global warming.
As the graph shows, 69 percent of the public is prepared to overlook disagreement about the environment and there are six issues that rate ahead of the environment in terms of the number of people who consider them dealbreakers.
On one hand, this type of study can be construed to reflect a depressing failure of America's traditional media to effectively communicate the importance of taking action to stop global warming. The researchers' results indicate that to many Americans, global warming is still viewed as just an environmental issue; until it starts hitting more peoples' pocketbooks or health, it's not going to become a decisive voting issue.
The good news, however, lies in the report's finding that people are more likely to care when global warming is framed as an energy issue:
Coupling global warming with energy independence, higher gas prices, and national security increases the issue’s saliency. While global warming and energy are inextricably intertwined at a policy level, most voters do not see energy through an environmental lens. Action on global warming and energy independence rank as a higher priority concern than “strengthening the military and keeping America safe,” according to Democracy Corps in March 2007.
As I've noted previously, solving global warming and solving Peak Oil are really opposite sides of the same coin. The same types of solutions that are needed for America to achieve energy independence - much greater efficiency, combined with cleaner fuels and clean energy technologies (and supporting tax/incentive policies to aid in their proliferation) - will also dramatically reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.
Thus, note to 2008 Presidential candidates and sustainability proponents alike - this study has some great clues for how to market and communicate the importance of fighting climate change, and the benefits of going green in general, to average Americans.