We are all aware of the phenomenon: no matter how big a news story may be, it will be eclipsed by another one sooner or later, usually sooner. Maybe it’s a global short attention span or simply part of the survival instinct, but people tend to concentrate their worrying on the problem that’s right on the front doorstep, not the one that’s creeping up in the back yard.
If you need evidence of this tendency just look at the results of last month’s poll by GlobeScan, the highly accredited public opinion research consultancy. Based on interviews with 22,812 people in 22 countries, either face-to-face or by telephone, researchers concluded that concern about environmental issues has diminished to the lowest point in the 20 years that such tracking has been conducted.
Participants were asked to rate their concern about six specific issues relating to our environment based on how seriously they took the problem. The list began with the shortage of fresh water and went through water pollution, depletion of natural resources, air pollution, loss of biodiversity, climate change and finally automobile emissions.
Among those questioned, the largest percentage (58%) still viewed water pollution and the depletion of natural resources (56%) as “very serious”. Less than half of them considered climate change to be a serious problem, and the researchers noted that the global level of concern plummeted following the UN Climate Change Summit of 2009.
The Summit was a meeting of international officials in Copenhagen to produce a legally binding agreement regarding responsibility for greenhouse gas emissions. Unfortunately, political delegates could not agree and the Summit failed to achieve any useful results.
Doug Miller, Chairman of GlobeScan, commented that although the scientific evidence for irreparable damage to the environment has increased, “. . . data shows that economic crisis and a lack of political leadership mean that the public are starting to tune out.” He added that those who are deeply concerned about these issues will have to come up with new strategies regain the attention of the general public.