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Water concerns trump global warming worries, Nielsen says

A global online survey of 25,000 consumers show that more immediate problems, such as the economy, are diverting attention away from the climate change issue.
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Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor on

While consumers are less worried, generally speaking, about global warming, they are paying heightened attention to other environmental concerns such as water pollution and best practices for product packaging. That's the general mood emerging from Nielsen's 2011 Global Online Environment & Sustainability Survey, which canvassed more than 25,000 people in 51 countries.

In particular, the results for U.S. consumers showed one of the deepest declines in concern about climate change/global warming. Less than half of the Americans surveyed as part of the study (48 percent) said they were "very" or "quite" concerned about this issue, which was off about 14 percent from the last time this poll was conducted in 2007. That contrast sharply with other areas of the world. Approximately 68 percent of European respondents, for example, said they were worried about this issue, while 90 percent of respondents from Latin America said they were the same. The data echo another recent survey about global warming conducted by Gallup, showing that fewer Americans consider it a threat.

Globally speaking, approximately 69 percent of all the respondents indicated that they are concerned about climate change. Air pollution (77 percent) and water pollution (75 percent) both trumped climate change as a worry for consumers around the world.

Commenting on the survey results, Maxwell Boykoff, senior visiting research associate at the Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford, said:

"There are many possible reasons for declines in concern about climate change/global warming. Focus on immediate worries, such as jo security, local school quality, crime and economic well-being have all diminished media attention for climate stories in the past two years. In the face of other pressing concerns, a public 'caring capacity' for climate change has been tested."

Indeed, the survey results show that apathy over global warming is growing. In North America, for example, here are some of the reasons that respondents said they did not care about global warming for the following reasons (respondents could name more than one response):

  • Humans do not cause/it is just natural variation (62 percent)
  • There are many more serious/urgent problems in the world (51 percent)
  • It will not affect me in my lifetime (20 percent)
  • It is not a problem (18 percent)
  • Technologies will take care of the problem for us (11 percent)
  • Warming temperatures are good for me (11 percent)

Mind you, this doesn't mean consumers are ready to let companies off the hook when it comes to corporate sustainability programs. Overall, 83 percent of the respondents agreed that it was important for companies to work to improve the environment; even though only 22 percent of the consumers are willing to pay more money for products that are greener or considered more eco-friendly.

So far, consumers believe that companies have made the most positive steps in packaging and energy efficiency. They are less convinced about the impact of using locally grown or fair trade certified products.

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This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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