While few Americans regard the environment as the nation’s foremost challenge, most say it should be a priority, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll. And more than half say global warming is caused by human behavior, the highest level ever recorded by the national poll.
Economic issues continue to top the list of most important problems, and only 1 percent of those surveyed last week offered the environment as a top concern for the country. Other concerns, ahead of the environment, were foreign policy, poverty, education, immigration and politics.
Still, nearly half of the public said global warming was having an impact now. One-quarter said they doubted it would have a serious impact at all, and about three in 10 expected its consequences to show up in the future.
Even at the risk of limiting economic growth, 58 percent said protecting the environment should be a priority. “Economic growth is important, but if we don’t take care of the environment, we won’t be here to enjoy it,” Bernice Schneiderman, 66, a retired teacher from Studio City, Calif., said in a follow-up interview.
Economic growth was more important to 37 percent of those surveyed, including Steven Swoboda, 36, from Victorville, Calif. “Because our economy is so bad,” he said, “we need to focus on it and on jobs and not worry so much about global warming.”
Fifty-four percent said the warming was caused by human behavior. “Man has ruined the earth,” said Laura Fort, 27, from Lexington Park, Md. “We need renewable energy that won’t hurt the environment.”
By contrast, 31 percent considered warming to be a natural phenomenon, and 10 percent did not accept the idea that global warming existed at all.
Fifty-seven percent of those surveyed said they did not think global warming would cause any harm to them personally. But 42 percent saw it as an imminent threat.
“When I was little, we were taught to reduce and recycle but I thought, ‘Oh, I’m not going to be around,’ ” said Lauri Tupper, of Salisbury, N.Y. “But now that I have a daughter, it’s scary knowing that what is going on right now could become worse.”
A 31-year-old Democrat, Ms. Tupper said, “I get called a tree-hugging hippie all the time.”
Partisan and generational divides were reflected throughout the survey. About half of Republicans considered the economy more important than the environment, while nearly two-thirds of Democrats said the environment should take priority.
While 18 percent of Republicans did not think global warming was real, only 3 percent of Democrats agreed. Sixty-one percent of Democrats said global warming was causing an impact now, compared with only 26 percent of Republicans.
More than seven in 10 of those 65 and older expected to see no impact from global warming in their lifetimes, but many younger people did, including 50 percent of those under 30. The nationwide telephone poll was conducted using landlines and cellphones Sept. 10-14 with 1,000 adults. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus three percentage points. The complete methodology and survey results are at nytimes.com/polls.