Worries About Pollution (and Global Warming) Have Eased

For years, many Americans’ default attitude about the natural environment has been that it is going from bad to worse. Gallup polling finds a significant decline in such sentiment, though respondents remain a bit more inclined to see the environment worsening than improving.

In 2006, 67 percent of Gallup respondents said the economy was getting worse, while 25 percent said it was getting better. In the new poll, fielded earlier this month, the “getting worse” vote was down to 48 percent, while the “getting better” tally had climbed to 41 percent.

There has been similar movement in the way respondents see the current condition of the environment in this country. As recently as a year ago, people were much more likely to rate it as “only fair” or “poor” (61 percent) than as “excellent” or “good” (39 percent). In this month’s poll, the “only fair/poor” vote fell to 53 percent while the “excellent/good” figure jumped to 46 percent.

The trend is also reflected in a drop in the number of respondents who say they worry “a great deal” about particular ecological problems — on several issues, to what Gallup calls a “20-year low.” A few examples: The number who worry that much about “pollution of drinking water” slid 9 percentage points in the past year, to 50 percent; the figure for “air pollution” fell 7 points, to 38 percent; for “loss of tropical rain forests,” it declined 9 points, to 33 percent.

Then there’s global warming. The percentage of respondents who worry a great deal about this has fallen 5 points since last year, to a lukewarm 28 percent. Meanwhile, the number who believe the “seriousness of global warming is generally exaggerated” has risen from 41 percent to 48 percent. Belief that it’s “a serious threat to you or your way of life in your lifetime” has been on a downward trajectory for the past couple years and now stands at 32 percent.

Naturally, none of this means brands can’t still burnish their images by aligning themselves with eco-friendly actions. But the poll’s findings do suggest that a filthy-sky-is-falling message will resonate less well with many consumers than one that adopts a sunnier “let’s build on our progress” theme.