7 in 10 Americans reducing carbon footprint

Or at least 7 in 10 say they are trying to reduce their carbon footprint. That’s according to a new ABC News/Planet Green/Stanford University Poll released this month.

Yes, this headline appears very much a result of higher gasoline prices:

59 percent say they’re using less gasoline — driving less, using smaller, more fuel-efficient cars, carpooling, taking mass transit and the like.

Yet it goes beyond just gasoline:

60 percent, also say they’re cutting their consumption of power (and water).

Let’s dig in and run through some of the numbers –

Of those reducing:
25% – mainly to save money
33% – environmental reasons
41% – combination of money and environment

The sweet spot is undoubtedly the twofer — money & environment. And while I’ve heard some argue that we should be careful not to dilute the environmental message with ideas of economic self interest, a.k.a. saving money – it seems a no-brainer that the economic benefits for average families are potentially substantial and fully exploiting that fact is imperative. We’ll all be conservatives! ;)

Of those not reducing:

54% plus – “say it’s unnecessary, too expensive, too inconvenient, won’t do any good, or that they just aren’t interested”
22% of those not reducing say they’re not trying because they’re not sure of what to do.

Like the 28% still supporting Bush, some are never going to come around – best to write them off and not be distracted by them. However for the 22% not knowing what to do we must make sure they are reached and helped to engage. Far beyond what “We” and 1Sky and other great privately run public awareness groups are capable of, a big federally financed public awareness and education campaign is a must.

On the global warming threat:
61% – say it’s not a threat in their lifetime – if nothing is done about it (reduced from 69% in 1997)
73% – say it will be a threat in their children’s lifetime – if nothing is done (no previous polling data shown)
81% – say it will be a threat to future generations (up 2 points from 2005)

It seems a safe bet, perhaps, that as more people come to think it threatens their children’s and even their own generation, more will take action to reduce their carbon footprints. I’m now 41 – so in 2050, health willing, I’ll be 83, and my daughter will be 43. And at the rate of things, it’s going to be very bad in 2050. The federally financed public awareness and education campaign must flip the first number and push it to 75% saying it WILL threaten their generation. (Again the last 25% are “Bush dead-enders”.)

Attitudes toward policy approaches:

78% – support stricter fuel efficiency standards for cars
59% – support Cap/Trade
74% – support Cap/Trade when told similar approach succeeded against acid rain
68% – support U.S. action even if other countries do less

Heartening numbers – particularly the last. The new administration needs to run with them.

Likely economic effects of addressing global warming:

33% – say will help U.S. economy
32% – say will hurt U.S. economy

I’m not sure how these numbers add up but the idea that there’s a split is not surprising and to me, heartening as well. Public education and effective implementation that demonstrates the economic benefits should drag the numbers into a clearly supporting position.

On the not so good side:
63% – favor expanding off-shore oil drilling
55% – favor wilderness area drilling

Only 44% favor building more nuclear. Split by party it’s: 60% of Republicans and 33% of Democrats favoring.

If not great, not surprising either. I think Obama’s approach to these is basically correct. Use them as bargaining chips to secure the real action that is going to meaningfully address the problem – getting beyond the stalling and to work.

25% – say global warming is the biggest environmental problem (down 8 points from 2007. First, how could this number be going down? And how could it be so ridiculously low, period? )
80% – say global warming is occurring (down 5 points from 2006 – how could this too possibly be going down? Maybe see here.)

50% – reduction in global warming news stories in month prior to poll, from same period in 2007. (Shocking, right?)

47% – trust scientists’ statements regarding climate
49% – don’t trust scientists’ statements regarding climate
(I believe in always retaining a healthy skepticism but these numbers are ridiculous.)

I think these last numbers are a testament to the power of FoxNews, Rush Limbaugh and the Right Wing Noise Machine – with their campaign, well coordinated with the GOP, to confuse, disinform and generally, as Stephen Colbert so deftly reveals, celebrate ignorance. They’ve cowed members of the 4th Estate into not fulfilling their civic responsibility to inform our citizens. All around it is shameful.

So as not to close on a sour note: I think the take away must be that despite the Right Wing Noise Machine’s best efforts, there is apparently broad support for meaningful public policy action to tackle the threat – with 68% supporting U.S. action even if other countries do less. That is hopeful indeed.

Ken Levenson

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8 Responses to 7 in 10 Americans reducing carbon footprint

  1. Ken,
    I agree with your perspective on these results–and, like you, it’s especially heartening that there seems to broad support for U.S. policy action.

    Somewhat less heartening is that we can’t rely solely on environmental motivations for getting folks to do the right thing–with oil and gas prices up, more folks want drilling where we shouldn’t, convinced by McCain et al. that it will bring prices down. As you say, we’ve got to appeal to pocketbooks as well as the greater good. I’d further argue that a “do the right thing” message should never be the only one. See my post from last week on it at

    Keep up the good work.

  2. gaiasdaughter says:

    Ken, the problem with the question ‘do you trust scientists’ statements regarding climate’ is that it doesn’t specify which scientists. I trust Hansen, the IPCC, the National Academies of Science, and the AAS, to name a few. I don’t trust Fred Singer, Dr. William Gray, or The Oregon Petition. At least I know the difference. Others out there read conflicting viewpoints in their local papers and don’t know who to trust. No wonder the numbers are ridiculous.

    As for the threat question, I’m 58. Is it global warming going to be a threat in my lifetime? I really don’t know. (I probably won’t make it to 2050; you’ll have to carry on without me). Overall, do I think the numbers are encouraging. We may have hope yet.

  3. David B. Benson says:

    gaiasdaughter —- The ongoing distruction of marine life may well be a threat in your lifetime. Ocean acidification due to too much CO2 is part of it.

  4. red says:

    “59% – support Cap/Trade
    74% – support Cap/Trade when told similar approach succeeded against acid rain”

    I wonder how many would support Cap/Trade if it was implemented not as essentially a tax that harms the economy and energy consumers’ pocketbooks (are those 59%/74% even aware that ultimately the consumer will need to pay – as well as those working class energy company employees?), but as a trade (that old bargaining chip again)? For example, would they go for it if it was done in conjunction with a comparably-sized reduction in payroll or income taxes?

    I suspect (having this kind of outlook myself) that there are a lot of people who are not against reducing pollution per se, but that are against having economic burdens placed on themselves and the people they care about, and/or are against increasing the centralized and easily corrupted power of the Federal government (for example, by giving it more money to spend).

  5. kenlevenson says:


    Like 2100, 2050 is probably a mistaken yardstick – just too far out. We should probably be talking about 2030 or so. And while the outlier world of collapse by 2030 that James Lovelock predicts – hopefully – an extreme that’s not possible, it’s my sense that this beast is moving much faster than anyone wants to consider or imagine. I think 20 years from now – while having much worse to get and go – will be for all practical purposes unimaginably bad.

  6. kenlevenson says:


    The cost of not acting is exponentially greater than that of acting.
    And to hit this point home – so that we might actually act rationally – we need a media willing to report what we face forcefully and bluntly.

  7. gaiasdaughter says:

    I was being a bit flip in my question. Half my house was taken by hurricane Ivan in 2004 and further damaged by Katrina in 2005. Did global warming cause those hurricanes? Highly unlikely. Did global warming contribute to their overall strength? Probably. So we are already being threatened by global warming. My real question, and Ken, I think you answered it, is this: if we continue with business-as-usual, how long before climate destabilization makes business-as-usual difficult, if not impossible? My crystal ball tends to fog over when I ask it that question.

  8. kenlevenson says:

    sorry to hear about your house. i actually think society will start to mobilize in just a few years….as it becomes clear that some countries in South Asia, South America and Africa are being fundamentally affected in ways that put them on a path to destabilization and collapse. While failing nation states may be far away geographically, the repercussions will be global. And that’s just the start. This realization is coming into focus now…see
    “Global climate change according to data published by ICIMOD is causing a rapid melt down of snow and glaciers in the Himalayan region and the water from the Himalayan river systems flows into water basins with a total population of almost 1.3 billion.”

    or my post about the Andes:

    I give it 2 or 3 years before folks really start freaking out about what’s coming… IF Obama is elected and the science funding is ramped up, and IF Obama implements an appropriate public education program.