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
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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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