Household Eco-Friendly Behavior Becoming Norm - But Still Most People Don't Bike or Take Public Transit

cfl photo

photo: photographer 23 via flickr

An update to the Global Warming's Six Americas survey, done by George Mason and Yale universities, has been released. Compared to stats compiled in January about the percentage of US residents who run the gamut from alarmed to dismissive about various aspects of global warming, from the science to the effects, there aren't huge changes.

But perhaps the most interesting information in it, at least for those of us trying to encourage more eco-friendly behavior, is what green actions people are already taking and which could use some more encouragement.

global warming's six americas image

image: Yale Project on Climate Change Communication
Slightly More People Alarmed Than Six Months Ago, Less Dismissive
First the stats on people's attitudes towards global warming: As you can see from the chart above, compared to the marked uptick seen in January in the number of people who were dismissive of climate change and the near halving of people in the alarmed category, by June 2010 the trend reversed slightly.

That's roughly comparable with the myriad surveys covering similar ground that have come out in the past six months. But let's move on to what is in many ways more interesting.

Majority of People Says Environmental Protection Helps Economy
When asked about the interplay between protecting the environment and economic growth, nationally 56% of people surveyed said protecting the environment improves economic growth and provides new jobs, with a further 25% saying conservation has no effect on the economy. So about eight of ten people think that protecting the environment is positive or neutral, when it comes to the economy.

But when there's a situation where there is a conflict between environmental protection and economic growth, 65% prioritized conservation over growth. That's a bit higher than I would've thought. What's more a majority of people think that way across all categories except those who are doubtful or dismissive about global warming (97% of the alarmed, down to 57% of the cautious).

Moving onto eco-friendly behaviors, the survey covered wide ground, with some areas showing much greater acceptance than others.

Green Action in the Home Strong, Growing
About 90% of people always or often turn off lights when they are not needed, with 78% doing the same with electronics. That message has thoroughly gotten through.

The numbers start dropping from there: 56% of people always or often recycle everything possible at home; the same amount set their thermostat below 68° in the winter. 52% are using less air conditioning in summer or set the thermostat to 76° or warmer. 51% use CFLs in all or most of their home lighting. 51% also always or often use as little water as possible when bathing or washing dishes. So, some good progress there, even if more could be made.

biking photo

It most places in the US, this would be a rare sight. Photo: Missy S via flickr.
Green Transit & Community Building Needs Radical Improvement
What's most concerning--especially if we're talking about really making some big dents into our use of fossil fuels for transport--is that a mere 21% of people walk or bike instead of driving, with 53% doing so rarely or never. When it comes to taking public transportation or carpooling, 13% do so always or often, with 59% rarely or never.

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I imagine some of that is probably linked to the mediocre public transport options in the US, as well as most communities not really not being overly bike or pedestrian friendly, due to their spread out nature.

It seems people are starting to conserve energy, when its easily in their ability to do so, when its in their home. Less so elsewhere.

If we want to really start moving the needle on energy usage, and making some real carbon emission reductions, that's where we need to focus our effort. The personal steps, at least with energy use, are sinking in. What's needed is the bigger structural changes to the way we build communities to enable more walking, biking, and public transit.

Read more: Global Warming's Six Americas, June 2010 [PDF]

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More on Global Climate Change & Environmental Behavior:
Which of Global Warming's Americas Do You Live In? The Alarmed, the Concerned, the Dismissive?
Americans' Attitudes Cool Towards Global Warming - Less Than Half Now Think Humans Responsible
Brazilians Take Global Warming Seriously - Much More Than US of European Citizens
National Survey Shows Americans Broadly Support Investments in Public Transit, Walking and Biking
Is Public Transit "Liberal" and Cars "Conservative"?

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