Two recent public opinion polls are showing that people around the world are reaching a tipping point when it comes to climate change.

The first public opinion study was conducted by a non-profit research organization called Public Agenda. They surveyed a representative sample of Americans and found that since 2005, we have come to think of energy as a security issue. Not only that, most of us want our government to address oil dependence but feel that it isn’t doing enough. Daniel Yankelovich, the Chair of Public Agenda, summarized the findings in the current issue of Foreign Affairs:

“Nearly nine out of ten Americans asked were worried about [oil dependence] — putting oil dependence at the top of our 18-issue “worry scale.” Virtually all Americans surveyed (90 percent) said they see the United States’ lack of energy independence as jeopardizing the country’s security, 88 percent said they believe that problems abroad could endanger the United States’ supply of oil and so raise prices for U.S. consumers, and 85 percent said they believe that the U.S. government would be capable of doing something about the problem if it tried. This last belief may be the reason that only 20 percent of those surveyed gave the government an A or a B on this issue; three-quarters assigned the government’s performance a C, a D, or an F.”

Meanwhile, a second public opinion survey, conducted by the Program on International Policy Attitudes, has found a worldwide consensus that climate change is a serious problem. The poll surveyed 30 countries from all the major regions in the world (e.g. the U.S., Chile, Brazil, Russia, France, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, China). The key findings:

“Across all countries, on average 90 percent say that “climate change or global warming, due to the greenhouse effect” is a serious problem. Only three countries have less than eight in ten endorsing this view (the US 76%, South Africa 72%, and Kenya 65%)…. Perhaps most significant, in 23 countries a majority says that global warming is a “very serious” problem. On average, 65 percent say that it is a very serious problem.”

As the experts from both polls are saying, it looks like we’re reaching an environment tipping point — not just in the United States but across the world. On Earth Day, individuals across the country paid heed to handy lists of changes we can each make (cheap, smart changes!) to our daily lives to promote a greener world. I found Vanity Fair’s 50 Ways to Help Save the Planet particularly useful.

While writing this post, I like to imagine many of the hundreds of other people that live in my apartment making small changes as they start their days — turning off the water while brushing their teeth, turning on their new fluorescent lightbulbs — and the collective impact that we’re making on the planet. We can only hope that American political leaders from both parties will also start their days with the environment on their minds. They must step up and seize the incredible opportunity of an emerging global consensus on the changing environment both for our future well-being and our security.

Advertisements