As the nation gets ready to celebrate Earth Day 2008, attitudes towards global warming are little changed from last year. Sixty-seven percent of Americans believe the activities of human beings are contributing to an increase in global temperatures, according to a survey by Harris Interactive. This is little changed from last year when 65 percent believed this. Last year, one in five (21%) Americans said they did not believe the activities of humans contributed to an increase in temperatures while this year 17 percent do not believe this.
Where there has been a change is in feelings towards the amount of the increase in temperatures. Last year, 50 percent of those who believe humans are contributing to an increase in temperatures characterized that increase as substantial; this year 40 percent say it is substantial. Just under this (38%) believe the change is moderate, while 33 percent said it was moderate last year. One in five (18%) say the increase is slight, while 14 percent said slight last year.
The impact of global warming is not one that people believe will be a threat to them or their families soon. Thirty percent believe global warming will present a threat to them and their families within their lifetime while 39 percent believe it will not and almost one-third (31%) are not sure. Last year, over one-third (36%) believed it would be a threat within their lifetime while 41 percent said it would not and one-quarter (24%) were not sure.
Only one in ten (11%) Americans say that they have gone and looked up their personal and/or household’s carbon footprint. The younger people are, the more likely they have looked up their footprint. Almost one in five (18%) Echo Boomers (those aged 18-31) say they have looked up their carbon footprint and/or their household’s footprint as have 11 percent of Gen Xers (those aged 32-43) compared to just nine percent of Baby Boomers (those aged 44-62) and six percent of Matures (those aged 63 and older).
While people may not be looking up their carbon footprint, Americans claim that they are doing things that will reduce it and their carbon emissions. Almost two-thirds (63%) of Americans say they may have reduced the amount of energy they use in their home, while two in five (43%) have purchased more energy efficient appliances. Additionally, over one-quarter (27%) of Americans have started purchasing more locally grown food while one in five (21%) have stopped drinking bottled water. Much smaller numbers (2% each) have purchased a hybrid car or purchased carbon offsets from an organization.
While most people are doing something, one-quarter of adults (27%) are doing nothing to reduce their emissions. And, while younger Americans may be more likely to look up their carbon footprint, they are also more likely to do nothing about it. Three in ten Echo Boomers (29%) and Gen Xers (31%) say they are doing nothing to reduce their emissions compared to one-quarter (26%) of Baby Boomers and one in five (20%) Matures.
Experience suggests that we should be somewhat skeptical of claims people make about doing the “right thing.” Energy consumption continues to increase so whatever actions people are taking are probably modest ones.