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Americans’ worries about environmental issues have hit a 20-year low, largely because of economic concerns, according to a Gallup Poll released Tuesday.Fewer adults worry “a great deal” about each of eight issues surveyed, including global warming, than a year ago, according to the poll of 1,014 Americans taken March 4-7. Their concerns about six of the issues hit record lows.


At the same time, in findings Gallup will release later this week, a record number — 53% — say economic growth takes precedence, even if it hurts the environment, says Frank Newport, Gallup’s editor in chief.

“The economy is swamping everything,” Newport says. Also, questions about the science of global warming are affecting other issues, he says. “The whole environmental realm has been politicized.”

Oil and gas companies have spent millions of dollars on ads to oppose a bill in the Senate that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions, says Bob Deans of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“That does have an impact” on public opinion, Deans says. He’s not surprised by the findings, given unemployment and foreclosures. “People have a lot on their worry plate.”

Still, he says, other surveys show that people want Congress to tackle global warming, so he doesn’t expect Gallup’s poll to make the bill a harder sell.

The poll numbers are disappointing, but they “don’t capture what motivates environmental legislation,” which is “intensity,” says Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, which promotes clean air and water policies.

The Gallup Poll finds that of eight environmental issues, Americans worry least about global warming and most about drinking-water pollution.

Even so, it cites record lows of 50% in the share of those who worry “a great deal” about drinking-water pollution, 33% on the loss of tropical rain forests, 31% on the extinction of plant and animal species. The poll finds lower concerns on three other issues:

Waterways pollution, 46% are concerned today, down from 72% in 1989.

Toxic waste contamination of air and water, 44% now, 69% in 1989.

Air pollution, 38% today, 63% in 1989.

Global warming concerns have fallen dramatically since 2007, when 41% worried “a great deal” about the issue; 28% worry today.

Gallup’s findings, based on land-line and cellphone interviews, have a margin of error of +/–4 percentage points.

Via USA Today