Americans Actually Think They Can Do Something About the Environment

It’s one of the few areas where a big majority of Americans firmly believe they can make a difference.

A bald eagle perches in an oak tree on hills of pastureland that has turned to dirt and dead grass on February 5, 2014 near Visalia, California.
National Journal
Matt Berman
Add to Briefcase
Matt Berman
May 9, 2014, 1 a.m.

This art­icle is part of a series on the May 2014 All­state/Na­tion­al Journ­al Heart­land Mon­it­or Poll.

There’s a whole lot that Amer­ic­ans don’t think they can change. Most Amer­ic­ans don’t think they can do much to re­duce taxes and gov­ern­ment spend­ing. More than half of Amer­ic­ans don’t think there’s much they can do to keep col­lege af­ford­able. Act­ing to pro­tect pri­vacy and So­cial Se­cur­ity be­ne­fits is a toss-up.

But there is one is­sue that a large ma­jor­ity of Amer­ic­ans ac­tu­ally thinks it can in­flu­ence: pro­tect­ing the en­vir­on­ment.

Ac­cord­ing to a new All­state/Na­tion­al Journ­al Heart­land Mon­it­or Poll, 78 per­cent of Amer­ic­ans think that the av­er­age cit­izen has “some” or a “great deal” of abil­ity to make a dif­fer­ence on the en­vir­on­ment through his or her own ac­tions. That’s the highest for any is­sue polled. You can see the full res­ults here:The num­ber is strik­ing, es­pe­cially when com­pared with how help­less most Amer­ic­ans feel when it comes to chan­ging their gov­ern­ment.

It’s not like Amer­ic­ans aren’t wor­ried about the state of the en­vir­on­ment. It’s not just the ac­tions the White House is cur­rently tak­ing on cli­mate change, or this spring’s ul­tra-gloomy United Na­tions re­port. While Amer­ic­ans are split on wheth­er the coun­try is headed in the right or wrong dir­ec­tion on en­vir­on­ment­al pro­tec­tion ac­cord­ing to the Heart­land poll, Amer­ic­ans know that where we are right now isn’t right.

In a re­cent Gal­lup Poll, two-thirds of Amer­ic­ans said that they per­son­ally worry about the qual­ity of the en­vir­on­ment a “great deal” or a “fair amount.” Gal­lup also found that 48 per­cent of Amer­ic­ans think the U.S. gov­ern­ment is do­ing too little to pro­tect the en­vir­on­ment (com­pared with 17 per­cent who think the gov­ern­ment is do­ing too much), and that 56 per­cent of Amer­ic­ans per­son­ally worry a great deal or fair amount about glob­al warm­ing spe­cific­ally.

Of course, act­ing to pro­tect the en­vir­on­ment could be as simple as re­cyc­ling a plastic bottle. Small, in­di­vidu­al ac­tions aren’t go­ing to re­verse cli­mate change on their own. But when it’s so easy to get down on in­di­vidu­al ef­fic­acy right now, and when it’s es­pe­cially easy to look at cli­mate change as this un­stop­pable, un­solv­able be­hemoth, it’s at least a little heart­en­ing to see an area where so many Amer­ic­ans think they can ac­tu­ally make a dif­fer­ence.

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