Global Warming Ranks Last Among Issues of Concern to Americans

By Sara Burrows | January 23, 2009 | 7:06pm EST

Pew Research poll shows that global warming is at the bottom of Americans' priorities list for 2009. (Source: Pew Research Center for the People & the Press)

( – While addressing global warming is a top priority of the Obama administration, it ranks low on the public's list of concerns, according to a Pew Research Center poll released Thursday.

Americans are concerned about the economy first of all, and they are tired of the “hype” about global warming, Patrick Michaels, a leading climate change expert, told 
In a national telephone survey (conducted Jan. 7-11), 1,500 adults were asked to prioritize the issues they thought the government should tackle in 2009.
Among the 20 policy issues people were asked to rate, global warming ranked last. The economy and jobs took first and second places, respectively. Deficit reduction and tax cuts also beat global warming, coming in ninth and 15th on the priority list.
The share of Americans saying that strengthening the nation’s economy should be a top priority has risen from 68 percent two years ago to 75 percent last year, to 85 percent today.
Only 41 percent rated global warming as one of their top priorities, down from 56 percent last year. 
“People are sick of the hype,” Michaels, a senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute, told “If they really believed global warming was a threat, it would be higher on the list.”
Michaels, also a research professor of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia, just released his fourth book, “Climate of Extremes: Global Warming Science They Don't Want You to Know.”
Adele Morris, a Brookings Institution deputy director for climate and energy economics, had a different interpretation of the poll.
“I would not conclude from this survey that the American people don’t care about climate change,” she told
She said global warming had been temporarily put on the back burner, but thinks people are still concerned about it.
“You can think of priorities in terms of what’s on fire on your desk or in terms of how you leave this world to your children,” she said. “It is human nature to think about short-run problems, sometimes at the expense of longer-run issues.”
Michaels said the economy is not the only reason people are caring less about climate change. 
“People are turned off by alarmist presentations of global warming,” he said.
He noted The Drudge Report posting “a story a day” on global warming, Al Gore emphasizing extremist scenarios, and James Hansen of NASA predicting disaster if global warming is not stopped in four years.
“They’ve heard rhetoric like this before on other issues,” Michaels said. “Acid rain was going to result in an ‘ecological silent spring’ according to the National Research Council. It didn’t. The ozone hole is going to give everyone cancer. It didn’t. Global warming is going to kill us all. It won’t.”
The poll indicates that the media have failed to sell global warming as an imminent danger, he said. 
Despite the public’s seeming lack of concern, Michaels predicts that government will ignore public opinion and spend exorbitant amounts of money on global warming in the coming years.
“Leadership in Congress has changed, particularly in the House of Representatives, with the much more radical Henry Waxman replacing John Dingell as chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee,” said Michaels.
“Obama has appointed some very radical people to very influential posts in the administration, particularly John Holdren, the science adviser, and Carol Browner, the climate czar,” Michaels added.
“Given the proposals that are being floated around, whatever legislation is passed will have a very high cost,” he said. 
Morris said she was hopeful and confident that Congress would move forward with climate change legislation.
“All signs point to some climate and energy components to the stimulus package,” she said. “Those are very likely to pass.”
“I don’t think the results of this survey are reason for Congress or the administration to scale back their plans to address global warming, but to ensure we address it in the most cost-effective way possible,” she said.
In an e-mail to, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), a ranking member of Environment and Public Works Committee, said that the Obama administration will have a “tough time selling global warming solutions during these tough economic times.”
“Americans simply are not buying the idea that Congress or the U.N. can somehow control the Earth's thermostat and they will not support costly emission control schemes,” he said.

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