As Earth Day marks its 40th birthday, three-fifths of Americans consider themselves either active in or sympathetic to the environmental movement, a new Gallup poll shows.
Although the percentage of those favoring the green movement has declined about 10 percent since Gallup first measured it in 2000, it "remains high" at 61 percent, Gallup said.
Nineteen percent of Americans say they are active participants in the environmental movement, while 42 percent are sympathetic but not active. Another 28 percent are neutral, and 10 percent are unsympathetic.
The poll showed similar levels of support for the environmental movement's impact. Sixty-two percent of Americans say the movement has definitely or probably done more good than harm, down from 75 percent in 2000. Roughly a third of the public said the movement has done more harm than good.
Those most supportive of the environmental movement or its impact are the young, college graduates, Democrats and self-described liberals. While men and women are equally likely to believe the movement has done more good than harm, women are more likely to personally associate themselves with it.
Gallup's annual environmental survey has shown increased political polarization over environmental issues, particularly global warming. Republicans and conservatives are now significantly less likely than Democrats, moderates and liberals to be sympathetic to the environmental movement or to say it is doing more good than harm.
Among self-identified Democrats there was a 3-point decline in positive orientation toward the movement over the past decade, from 77 percent to 74 percent. By contrast, there was a 13-point decline among Republicans, from 64 percent to 51 percent, and an 11-point drop among independents, from 70 percent to 59 percent.
The poll also showed that 90 percent of Americans have voluntarily recycled, 85 percent have reduced their household energy use and 76 percent have bought products specifically because they thought they were better for the environment over the past year. These numbers have remained steady since 2000.
Gallup asked two new questions this year, finding that 81 percent have replaced standard light bulbs in their homes with compact fluorescent light bulbs and 70 percent have used reusable shopping bags at grocery stores.
Global warming, energy
The poll also found that over the past two years Americans have become less worried about the threat of global warming, less convinced that its effects are already happening and more likely to believe that scientists themselves are uncertain about its occurrence.
A majority of Americans still agree that global warming is real, with 53 percent saying the effects of the problem have already begun or will do so in a few years, but that percentage is dwindling. And 48 percent of Americans now believe that the seriousness of global warming is generally exaggerated, up from 31 percent in 1997, when Gallup first asked the question.
Americans are more likely to say the United States should prioritize development of energy supplies than to say it should prioritize protecting the environment, the first time more have favored energy production in the question's 10-year history. Fifty percent said development of U.S. energy supplies like coal, oil and gas should be given priority even if the environment suffers to some extent, while 43 percent said environmental protection should be given priority even at the risk of limiting energy supplies.
But at the same time, Americans continue to advocate greater energy conservation by consumers -- at 52 percent -- over greater production of oil, gas and coal supplies -- at 36 percent -- as a means of solving the nation's energy problems.
The poll was conducted a few weeks before President Obama came out in favor of oil exploration off some sections of the U.S. coast and shortly after he advocated the expanded use of nuclear power in the United States.
Americans are less worried about each of eight specific environmental problems than they were a year ago, such as pollution and tropic forests. On all but global warming and maintenance of the nation's fresh water supply, concern is the lowest Gallup has measured. For example, in 1989, 72 percent of Americans said they worried a great deal about pollution of rivers, lakes, and reservoirs, but that has dropped to 46 percent today.
But one major reason Americans may be less worried about environmental problems is that they perceive environmental conditions in the United States to be improving. Overall quality of the environment in the United States was rated "excellent" or "good" by 46 percent of those now surveyed, up from 39 percent in March 2009. Despite these shifts, the majority of 53 percent continue to rate current environmental conditions as only fair or poor.
In a commentary, Gallup scholar for the environment Riley Dunlap said many factors, particularly the state of the economy, contributed to the overall lower levels of public concern about environmental problems as well as the less positive views of the environmental movement in this year's survey. "The growing political polarization over environmental issues is likely another key factor," he added.
The telephone poll with 1,014 adults was conducted from March 4-7, with an error margin of 4 percent.