PRINCETON, NJ -- With Earth Day about a month away, Americans tell Gallup they worry the most about several water-related risks and issues among nine major environmental issues. They worry least about global warming and loss of open spaces.
At least three in four Americans surveyed in Gallup's 2011 Environment poll say they worry a great deal or a fair amount about contamination of soil and water by toxic waste, pollution of rivers, lakes, and reservoirs, pollution of drinking water, and the maintenance of the nation's supply of fresh water for household needs.
Air pollution is nearly as high a concern for Americans, with 72% worried a great deal or a fair amount about it.
A little more than 6 in 10 worry about the related problems of extinction of plant and animal species and the loss of tropical rain forests. Slightly fewer worry about urban sprawl and loss of open spaces, while barely half, 51%, worry about global warming.
The poll was conducted March 3-6, prior to the emergence of an earthquake- and tsunami-generated nuclear crisis in Japan that has raised Americans' own concerns about nuclear power.
The current levels of public concern about various environmental problems are essentially unchanged from 2010. However, Americans are less worried today than they were 10 years ago about all eight issues Gallup measured in 2001. The decline over the past decade spans a period when the public often expressed surging concern about terrorism, the Iraq war, gas prices, and the economy.
Although the United States has experienced nothing like the mass drinking-water scare that is gripping Japan during its current nuclear crisis, Americans largely recognize the importance of clean water to their lives. All four environmental issues referring to "water" in this year's Gallup Environment poll rank in the upper tier of environmental concerns, with air pollution a close fifth. Perhaps not surprisingly, there is a slightly steeper drop-off in concern about several issues that aren't directly related to daily survival, such as the loss of tropical rain forests and urban sprawl. What may surprise some, given the broad exposure the issue has received in recent years, is that global warming ranks lowest -- consistent with other Gallup polling -- with barely half of Americans concerned and 48% only a little or not at all concerned.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted March 3-6, 2011, with a random sample of 1,021 adults, aged 18 and older, living in the continental U.S., selected using random-digit-dial sampling.
For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones (for respondents with a landline telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell phone-only). Each sample includes a minimum quota of 150 cell phone-only respondents and 850 landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents for gender within region. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.
Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, education, region, and phone lines. Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2010 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in continental U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.
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