Friday, December 07, 2007

Consumer polls on climate change and the environment

It is always dangerous to extrapolate consumer behavior from polls. Questions can be leading or mis-leading, consumer decision-making isn't always rational, etc. Still, one of my goals for this site it to collect the plethora of surveys on the environment that I come across and post them here, both for future reference and to see how predicted trends actually play out.

I began at Two Steps Forward, where Joel Makower collected about 15 of these surveys several months (an Earth Day exercise). In going through these polls to try and catalogue the answers, I learned a few things.

(sorry about the picture quality. posting excel tables to blogger is an intelligence test that I just failed miserably. click on it and you can actually see it.)

1) Every polling outfit is asking different questions about the environment and accordingly receiving different answers. Given that most polls on these topics are driven (and paid for) by special interest groups, it makes sense that only the most carefully selected and tailored answers will be made public. The polls driven by the media (USA Today Gallup, ABC News, etc.) may be better, but I suspect that the interests underlying, say, the Fox News survey and the BBC News poll may diverge.

2) Survey respondents are a basket of different groups, again dependent upon the special interest group doing the asking. Some surveys are global, others focus on "consumers", others "the American worker", etc. This only adds to the challenge of analyzing results and seeing trends.

3) The results have some spread, but general trends are discernible. People seem to care about the environment, believe global warming is at least a reality and appear willing to take some (qualified) action to alleviate the problem. However, until the number of people who "believe global warming is caused mostly by humans" rises above 60%, I don't imagine there'll be much urgency in the matter.

To this end, the latest survey comes from the BBC under the caption: "Most would pay higher bills to help climate".

The survey found 83 percent of those questioned believed lifestyle changes would be necessary to cut emissions of climate warming carbon gases. The survey, conducted by two polling organisations for the BBC World Service, covered 22,000 people in 21 countries. In 14 of the 21 countries from Canada to Australia, 61 percent overall said it would be necessary to increase energy costs to encourage conservation and reduce carbon emissions.
Sounds great in theory. The only reference to the US and China was:
The survey said the findings applied equally in China, which is building a coal-fired power station a week to feed its booming economy, and in the United States, which is the world's biggest carbon polluter.
Color me unconvinced. Would love to see a little more data, but I don't think it's going to be forthcoming.

In any event, as I get my hands on more surveys, I'll keep them coming. Conversely, feel free to send me any you come across.

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