Environmental Problems in American

Trends in Americans' Worry About Environmental Problems

Story Highlights

  • Worry about most problems down after increasing in 2014
  • Americans are most worried about polluted drinking water
  • Americans worry least about global warming

PRINCETON, N.J. - Americans' concern about several major environmental threats has eased after increasing last year. As in the past, Americans express the greatest worry about pollution of drinking water, and the least about global warming or climate change.

The results are based on Gallup's annual Environment survey, conducted March 5-8. Gallup trends on many of these items stretch back more than two decades.Worry About Environmental Problems by Political Party, 2000 vs. 2015 Last year's increased worry has proved temporary, with the current level of worry on each of the problems back to about where it was in 2013.

Despite ups and downs from year to year in the percentage worried about the various issues, the rank order of the environmental problems has remained fairly consistent over the decades. Americans express greater concern over more proximate threats - including pollution of drinking water, as well as pollution of rivers, lakes and reservoirs, and air pollution - than they do about longer-term threats such as global warming, the loss of rain forests, and plant and animal extinction.

The amount Americans worry about the various threats tends to rise and recede in unison, with concern higher in the late 1980s and early 1990s during the revival of environmentalism, and in the late 1990s and early 2000s amid the economic boom. Since then, Americans' worry has fallen, with concern dipping to record lows on most issues in 2010 or 2011. The current level of worry on each issue remains at or near those record lows.

Consistent with the decline in worry about specific environmental problems, Americans have become more positive about the quality of the environment in recent years. If Americans perceive the environment to be in relatively good shape, it follows they would be less concerned about potential environmental threats to Americans. The more positive views about the environment could be the result of federal, state and local government's as well as individuals' actions to minimize potential environmental threats to U.S. citizens.

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