Environmentalist Flux, 2002 Shopping Lists, Etc.

If you were founding an environmentalist group for the everyman, you might name it Fair-Weather Friends of the Earth. Some survey data suggests why. In polling conducted for Adweek by Alden & Associates Marketing Research of Hermosa Beach, Calif., the number of people saying the environment is more important to them than the economy slipped from 63 percent at the beginning of 2001 to 55 percent by the end of the year. Similarly, Gallup polling finds concern about most environmental problems “has declined sharply over the past two years, most likely due to increasing concern about the economy and terrorism over the same period.” In fact, the trend extends further back. Last month, 53 percent of Gallup’s respondents said they worry “a great deal” about pollution of rivers, lakes and reservoirs; 72 percent said the same in a 1989 poll. The number who worry a great deal about air pollution fell to 45 percent last month from 63 percent in 1989. Gallup’s current poll finds a landslide 83 percent of respondents favoring stricter pollution controls for industry. A smaller majority (72 percent) back higher emission standards for cars. But when asked about “setting legal limits on the amount of energy that average consumers can use,” 35 percent were in favor. It seems pointless to describe this grab bag of attitudes as hypocritical. People simply feel environmental problems are caused by smoke-belching industries and not by their own choices as consumers.

Meet the “genderless shopper.” A study by WSL Marketing finds younger men “much more akin to younger women” than to older men in their shopping habits. Like younger women, men age 18-34 make 3.6 shopping trips per week, vs. 3.0 for men age 55 and up. The 18-34 men also share young women’s taste for specialty clothing shops: 35 percent shopped in one during the last three months, vs. 20 percent of men 35-54 and 11 percent of men 55 and older.

The Oddest Factoid of the Week comes to us via an online poll by Child magazine: While a majority of parents said (predictably) the most important factor in choosing a sperm donor is his medical history, 3 percent would assign chief importance to his hobbies.

The downside of longevity figures to be a major theme of American life. A bulletin from the National Institutes of Health gives a taste of this as it warns of a coming increase in age-related eye disease. Already, more than a million Americans age 40 and over are blind, with another 2.4 million visually impaired. “These numbers are expected to double over the next 30 years as the Baby Boomer generation ages.”

Jay Gatsby, Holden Caulfield, Humbert Humbert, Leopold Bloom and Rabbit Angstrom. Based on the views of a panel of litterateurs, those five top Book magazine’s list of the “100 Best Characters in Fiction Since 1900.” James Joyce fares well, with Ulysses’ Molly Bloom (No. 8) joining husband Leopold in the top 10, while Stephen Dedalus (from Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man) is No. 9. Sherlock Holmes (6) bests fellow detectives Philip Marlowe (25) and Sam Spade (42). There’s a decent showing by non-humans, including Winnie-the-Pooh (29), the Cat in the Hat (39) and web-spinner Charlotte (63).

Is there enough pent-up consumer demand to drive a robust economic recovery? Looking at the way people have spent during the past year, some economists think not. One wonders, though, if that verdict takes into account the current consumer psychology. Given people’s urge to buy, it doesn’t take much penting up to make them feel they’ve endured enough self-denial. If a person has grown accustomed to spending much more each year (as many did during the ’90s), a subsequent period of even mild austerity can leave him determined to go on a spree. The chart here, drawn from a Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll, gives an idea of how people will spend their cash when they’re feeling flush again. Meanwhile, 59 percent of the same survey’s respondents said the U.S. economy is still in a recession, 13 percent believe it’s over and 20 percent think there wasn’t any recession in the first place.