USA. New Congress will meet new attitudes on environmental issues

Tuesday, 28 November 2006

Democrats' return to power in Congress after more than a decade in the minority signals the return of environmental issues to the forefront of the policy debate, but keeping their campaign promises will mean navigating what new research shows are complex public perceptions of environmental problems.

According to ecoAmerica's landmark American Environmental Values Survey, conducted in the months leading up to the November elections, there are deep differences in the way that Americans now think about the environment and a new set of challenges for Congress and environmental advocates.

"What this means is that Congress must chart a new path to build public support for environmental protection," said Lee Bodner, executive director of ecoAmerica. "Differences over environmental issues are not simply partisan. Environmental values vary significantly across different groups of Americans. Pro-environment legislators and advocates need to take that into account."

The American Environmental Values Survey, conducted by ecoAmerica and research firm SRIC-BI, paints a new picture of environmentalism in America. Almost all Americans remain deeply concerned about nature and the public health aspects of pollution. However, as broad and more distant environmental issues such as global warming, drilling in Alaska, and the collapse of ocean fisheries replace traditional pollution issues, different levels of awareness and understanding have fragmented Americans. The survey also revealed significantly different environmental values among different social, political and economic constituencies.

"While there are significant differences in attitudes about environmental issues between Republicans and Democrats, the differences within the respective parties may be just as important," according to Bodner. Knowledge workers for instance, see global warming as the most important environmental threat. Union members, on the other hand are worried about threats to the natural areas that they depend on for recreation. Meanwhile members of minority communities are most concerned about the effects of pollution on their family's health.

As the new Congress convenes hearings on global warming, the AEVS shows that two thirds of Americans now believe that global warming will affect them in their lifetimes. However, major differences in support for solutions are apparent among different constituencies. Traditional pro-environment Democrats display very different views on global warming issues. For example, most educators would support higher taxes to solve climate change. In contrast, only 30% of blue-collar workers would do so.

The survey findings provide a new roadmap for advancing environmental protection, in the complex debate over global warming. As understanding and values diverge, a new environmental majority can only be built if lawmakers and environmental advocates tailor their message. Bodner said, "In the same way that companies target advertising to specific audiences, we need to target the right environmental message to the right audience to craft a true environmental majority."

ecoAmerica is a non-profit environmental research and marketing firm dedicated to making sustainable support for our natural heritage a personal and public policy priority among environmentally agnostic Americans. ecoAmerica uses psychographic research that identifies deeply held values of Americans and develop state-of-the-art, innovative marketing programs to drive changes in awareness, attitudes and behaviors.

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 28 November 2006 )