Global Warming Fades as Public Concern, Polls Finds

Global Warming Fades as Public Concern, Polls Finds

The results of a new poll released by the Pew Research Center in Washington, D.C., suggest that Americans preoccupied with a shaky economy are less worried about rising global temperatures than they were a year ago but remain concerned about the nation's energy problems, the New York Times reports.

The findings are somewhat at odds with the likely agenda of President Barack Obama, who has put a high priority on combating global warming and vowed in his inaugural address to "roll back the specter of a warming planet." In the Pew poll, however, results of which were released on Thursday, global warming came in last among twenty voter concerns, trailing issues such as addressing moral decline and reducing the influence of lobbyists. Indeed, only 30 percent of the voters deemed global warming "a top priority," compared with 35 percent in 2008.

Similarly, "protecting the environment," which had jumped sharply in poll results from 2006 to 2008, dropped even more precipitously in the most recent survey, with only 41 percent of voters citing it as a top priority, compared with 56 percent in 2008. At the same time, dealing with the nation's energy problems ranked sixth in the poll — just behind education and social security — with 60 percent of voters endorsing it as a top priority.

The public's fading interest in global warming poses a challenge for Obama, who emphasized the issue throughout his campaign and pledged to seek a cap on carbon emissions in the United States. But given many Americans' concerns about the future cost of filling their gas tanks and heating their homes, some policy experts say Obama may be able to shore up support for his proposals by packaging his climate policy as part of a larger push for a cleaner, more secure energy future.

"Obama can effectively tie conservation, efficiency, and renewable energy to jobs, sustainable growth, and national security," said Oklahoma State University sociologist Riley E. Dunlap, who studies public and political discourse on climate. "This will be easier with energy efficiency and independence than with climate change, [but] I think he can 'legitimate' climate change and the need to act on it to a considerable degree."

Andrew C. Revkin. "Environmental Issues Slide in Poll of Public's Concerns." New York Times 01/23/2009.