A new poll from the Pew Research Center has global warming ranked dead last among twenty alternatives presented for ranking as top priorities. People were asked to assign a priority to each of the twenty alternatives but could, if they wanted to, assign top priority to all of them. This year 30% of respondents made global warming a top issue; last year it was 35% and two years ago (first year it was on the list) 38%.
"Protecting the environment" also slipped significantly. Last year 56% rated it a top priority; this year only 41% did.
Not surprisingly, jobs and the economy topped the list: 85% (up from 75% last year) gave the economy a top priority rating and 82% (up from 61%) did so for jobs. Nothing in the methodology forced people to downgrade one category in order to upgrade another. Obviously, though, people are focused on immediate threats.
But notice that 60% of pollees rate "Dealing with US energy problems" as a top priority (59% last year) and 76% give a top rating to "Defending the US from terrorism" (up from 74%). It's not surprising that Obama mentioned self-sufficiency before global warming as a reason for his energy policy in his inaugural. The poll was taken, however, in the week before the swearing-in.
As blogged previously, environmentalists (which includes me) would do well to make sure that environmentalism is NOT used as an excuse for either NIMBY or anti-growth policies. People worried about their jobs will not take kindly to whatever prevents them from going back to work. This is a time for environmentalists (including me) to find ways to get projects done quickly rather than slowing them down. This is a time when redoing our cumbersome permitting processes and endless opportunities for destructive appeals is essential.
The environmental upside can be huge. If we can really rebuild our electrical grid and make it smart in the next two years, if we can build nuclear power plants during the next five, if we can build a significant number of new windmills and solar arrays, then we will reduce our use of fossil fuels – especially the imported kind. There is no question that the planning and construction of these projects could be done in these timeframes if we were determined to move straight ahead. However, under current law we will not turn over a single shovel full of dirt during the next two years on projects which aren't already years into the planning process. We can only do a patch work of needed but insignificant repair and reconstruction projects that were already in the pipeline.
If we don't make real changes to the processes which chain us, we'll disappoint both the job-seekers and the environmentalists.