Here’s an issue that, I think, says a lot about the challenges facing anyone campaigning or trying to move policy on climate change. Gallup’s annual tracker on climate change has a set of answers which suggests that climate change continues to be seen as a relatively abstract issue, and not something that affects people’s lives in a tangible way.
First, to the numbers. The Gallup poll asked Americans how concerned they are about various environmental issues, covering pollution, biodiversity loss, and global warming. Of all the issues polled, global warming provoked the lowest level of concern (fieldwork March 2009):
For anyone who thinks that global warming/climate change is the greatest environmental threat to human development, these results should be quite worrying. They suggest that the seriousness of climate change is not very well understood in comparison with more proximate threats like pollution. As the basis for public campaigns about climate change, that is not very helpful.
Why should global warming be so far down the list, given the extent of coverage about it in comparison with the other issues on the list (this isn’t to assert that climate change receives an appropriate amount of coverage – simply that it tends to receive more than other environmental issues)? I think two factors are driving this.