70% of Americans think the environment is more important than economic growth

By   August 27, 2018

nature v industry

Turns out, sustainability isn’t about awareness. People get it.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I think about sustainability and get depressed. So much needs to be done, but people keep destroying the environment at record speed.

So I was surprised when I recently learned something so blindingly positive, I couldn’t even be cynical about it. A few weeks ago, Yale conducted its annual climate opinion map. The researchers found that 70 percent of Americans think environmental protection is more important than economic growth.


For whatever reason — media, politicians, the way people talk — I’ve assumed that half the country or more either doesn’t understand environmental problems or doesn’t care. Sure, I may live in a bubble of composting freaks, but plenty of people think waste isn’t destructive, climate change isn’t real, pollution isn’t a problem and who needs tigers anyway?

But according to this study, none of that’s true. For instance:

    • – 85 percent of Americans support funding research into renewable energy.

– 70 percent think climate change is real. And if you look at the map, it’s a majority in just about every state, including the Deep South. The same percentage thinks climate change will harm plants and animals and affect future generations.

– 68 percent want fossil fuel companies to pay a carbon tax.

– 65 percent are against drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

percentage of americans who think global warming is happening© Courtesy of Yale University

So often, people talk about environmental issues as if the real challenge is convincing people. If only people were more aware and knowledgeable, we wouldn’t have this problem. But according to this survey, it’s not about awareness. People get it, whether they’re in rural Texas or New York City.

The problem, then, lies with actually getting governments and businesses to act on what people want. It’s a little thing called democracy, and it’s hard to pull off, even in a democracy. The study also found that only 21 percent of people hear about global warming in the media at least weekly. And the current administration continues to strip the EPA of its power. People have to find a way to get these large institutions to listen to them.

Fixing the environment isn’t about enlightening people. It’s about mobilizing them.