Walking the Talk on the Road Less Traveled


Continuing on the NIMBY theme…

The Associated Press just released a study, Public Opinion and the Environment: The Nine Types of Americans, based on a national survey of attitudes of Americans on a variety of environmental concerns.

While attitudes about global warming were assessed in part, it was a welcome relief to find that the majority of the report was not about climate change but about “the importance individuals place on environmental protection, what the government’s role should be in regulating it, whether an environmental crisis exists, how individuals see themselves in relation to nature, and how individuals respond when scientific and religious explanations conflict.”

The first conclusion of the study is that public attitudes about the environment are far more complex than pro- or anti- environmentalism. This report divides Americans into nine groups:

  •   9% – Liberal Greens
  • 10% – Outdoor Greens
  • 14% – Religious Greens
  • 10% – Middle-of-the-Roaders
  • 29% – Homebodies
  •   6% – Disengaged
  • 15% – Outdoor Browns
  •   8% – Religious Browns
  •   8% – Conservative Browns

The categories are pretty self-explanatory. Greens are pro-environmentalism and browns are anti- environmentalism. The others are scattered in between. No big secrets revealed there.

The interesting part is the identification of the nine groups and their relative distribution. 10% Outdoor Greens is about what I would suspect based on my experience, that being my group. I was surprised that only 45% fell into the Middle-of-the-Roaders, Homebodies and Disengaged categories. I would have guessed much higher.

The disturbing part was the breakdown in “environmentally friendly” activities, such as turning down the thermostat on the furnace or up on the air conditioner (I would have had to answer Not Applicable), walking, bicycling or taking public transit, buying compact fluorescent light bulbs and carrying reusable shopping bags to the grocery store. Percentages were shockingly low in all these categories, even for Liberal and Outdoor Greens, demonstrating that Americans have a long way to go before walking their talk.

As with any national statistical survey, the results may be wildly different from what one experiences at the local level. Some places are very high in Liberal and Outdoor Greens, some places abound in Browns of all flavors.

What impressed me most was that despite all the environmental hyperbole in the national and international media, especially with the fête de réchauffement global in Paris this month, public environmental awareness, concern and activism are so pitifully low in the United States. Only 33% identified themselves as green of any shade, 31% as browns and 45% as not really caring one way or another. (Yes, it adds up to more than 100%. I’ve never trusted statistics.)

While this is consistent with what I’ve observed as an environmental activist, it’s still distressing to see it laid out in numbers.

“‘Twas ever thus,” quoth Mr. Natural. It has always been the 10% who stand up and speak out, who act, who organize, who walk the talk on the road less traveled.

You can download the full 28 page report HERE.




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