Americans' attitudes toward the environment aren't reflected in action

About 60 percent of Americans feel a 'great deal' or 'a lot' of personal responsibility to protect the environment, but that attitude isn't necessarily reflected in day-to-day actions.

John Dooley/Sipa Press/AutoShow/NEWSCOM
About 45 percent of those in a recent poll embraced the idea of gas-electric hybrid cars, such as this Lexus LF-Ch hybrid concept car shown at the Los Angeles Auto show. But only 1 in five said they were very likely to buy such a vehicle, citing the cost.

Sometimes it is easier to think green than be green.

A recently released survey suggests Americans have largely embraced recycling bottles and cans, and are inclined to turn down thermostats to save energy. But it also indicated that some paths toward a greener Earth are not as easily taken — or turned into action.

The telephone poll, conducted for The Associated Press and NBC Universal, tried to gauge attitudes about the environment. It found that 60 percent of those surveyed felt either a "great deal" or "a lot" of personal responsibility to protect the environment, while 37 percent rarely, if ever, even thought about the impact of their actions on the earth's health.

Several European countries have had major recycling and other "green" programs in effect for decades. It is only in recent years that significant numbers of people have become aware of the dangers facing the planet if increased environmental conservation methods are not taken.

Nearly eight of 10 people who were concerned about environmental protection said that they believe their actions are helping to protect the environment.

The survey found that nearly 7 in 10 people believe recycling bottles and cans would help the environment a lot. The same number said that about adding energy-saving insulation to their homes.

A little more than 6 of 10 said that buying energy-efficient appliances, using recycled paper products, and car pooling help a lot.

A little more than half said it would make a lot of difference to turn down the thermostat, reuse water bottles, and take your own reusable bag when grocery shopping.

While many of the respondents — a cross section of adults from across the country — said these actions would help the environment "a great deal," or at least "a lot," when asked about some specific actions, the gap widened between what they believe to be important and what they, themselves, have any intention of doing.

In some cases, the inability to turn their green priorities into action reflected geography or economics.

Take the matter of car pooling, or using mass transit. More than 6 in 10 people said they thought it would help the environment. Yet only 3 in 10 said they were very likely to do it, and 4 in 10 said they were not at all likely to car pool or take mass transit.

A third of those surveyed lived in rural areas where mass transit was generally not readily available and where car pooling would be less likely. Yet, only 44 percent of urbanites and 32 percent of people living in the suburbs also said they were very likely to use mass transit or car pool.

Janice Meehl, an elementary school teacher and one of the participants in the survey, says she fervently recycles bottles and cans, keeps the thermostat down, and years ago added insulation to her all-electric home, cutting her energy bill in half.

It saves money but also "it's doing the right thing for the environment. They go hand in hand," she said in a follow-up interview.

While she commutes 70 miles round-trip to work each day, she says mass transit or car pooling "is not an option. If it were, would I use it? Probably."

Like Ms. Meehl, 7 in 10 people surveyed said they thought adding energy-saving insulation in their homes would be a good idea for the environment. But only half said they were very likely to do it and 1 in five respondents, said they were highly unlikely to add insulation. In some cases, respondents said the structure of their house prevents more insulation from being added easily.

About 45 percent of those surveyed embraced the idea of gas-electric hybrid cars, but only 1 in five said they were very likely to buy such a vehicle, and half said they were "not at all likely" to buy one.

"They're too expensive right now," said Vaughan Oliver in a follow-up interview. "You would have to have one for years and years and years to make it feasible to pay for itself."

Mr. Oliver said he might consider a hybrid "in another 10 years," when he says he'll be more secure that they will not cause him a problem.

Today, gas-electric hybrids can carry a $4,000 to $7,000-or-more price premium over similar gasoline-powered vehicles.

Associated Press writers Dina Cappiello and Trevor Tompson contributed to this report.

Editor’s note: For more articles about the environment, see the Monitor’s main environment page, which offers information on many environment topics. Also, check out our Bright Green blog archive and our RSS feed.

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