Several surveys on Americans’ attitudes about environmental protection paint an impressionistic picture in shades of green. Three surveys come at the question of how green Americans’ behaviors are from three very different perspectives and the results serve up the uniquely, deeply-flavored American stew of opinion.
Getting caught breaking green taboos would turn your face redder than getting caught cheating on your taxes. That’s the conclusion of a national survey conducted by the Shelton Group which has tracked environmental attitudes for years. Responding to the question, “How embarrassed would you be if someone you admire found out that you…”
· threw trash out of your car window – 59 percent
· cheat on your taxes – 57 percent
A quarter of Americans said they’d be embarrassed if people knew they drove a vehicle that gets 13 or 14 miles per gallon. But the survey also found that the most effective motivation to adopt more eco-friendly behaviors would be if penalties and fees were imposed on acts that hurt the environment. Still the survey’s authors say that these results indicate that environmental values and behaviors are mainstream and becoming embedded in American culture.
Another survey though finds that today’s young adults, the Millennials, are less concerned about the environment and less likely to take action to protect the environment than were their predecessors the Gen Xers and the baby boomers. Back in the day about a third of baby boomers said it was important to take personal action to protect the environment. The Millennials, not so much – only 21 percent think that’s important. Fifteen percent of them said they made no effort at all to help the environment. Some academics explain this unexpected result as environmental fatigue or by a fundamental disconnect with nature.
The third survey finds that the strongest support for environmental protection resides in Latino communities. Latinos are the greenest Americans – 87 percent say that we can have both clean air and clean water and a good economy. In fact, Latinos strongly support actions to fight global warming, clean up the air and reduce the use of dirty energy. The survey found that the strong support for cleaning up the environment is rooted in the belief that we have a moral obligation to find solutions for global warming.
The mainstream environmental movement has yet to successfully tap the strong Latino support for protecting the environment. It’s a growing population that has much to teach big environmental organizations – and the Millennials.