Patrick CrowA recent survey has found that Americans' impressions of environmental trends bear little resemblance to the truth.
The National Environmental Education and Training Foundation, Washington, D.C., used the Roper Starch Worldwide polling organization to question 2,000 citizens about environmental issues.
It found Americans rely on outdated or incorrect data about the environment, and often rely on outright myths.
Kevin Coyle, the foundation's president, said, "While fiercely supportive of efforts to preserve and protect the environment, most Americans are using yesterday's news when making critical decisions about behavior and policy on key environmental issues.
"This dependence on mythology threatens to block progress on important environmental initiatives and renders ineffective many individual actions on behalf of the environment."
Outdated dataHe explained that the news media transmit vivid images that "stick for a long time" in the public's mind, long after they are no longer true-if they ever were.
Coyle said the survey showed Americans are concerned about the environment.
He said 71% of those polled consider environmental protection vastly more important than economic development (17%), an 8% increase since 1995. And 85% of the respondents said they personally take actions to preserve the environment.
Coyle said, "The good news is that an educated public will take action. Continued education on environmental issues will result in more effective efforts to protect the environment."
The Roper poll posed 10 questions. For each, it offered a "myth" answer, two plausible but incorrect answers, and a correct answer. Twice as many people chose the myth responses as those who chose correct answers.
The mythsAmericans told the pollsters that the government tests bottled water and household chemicals for safety. No.
They think spent nuclear fuel is being stored underground in the west (not true yet) and that famine causes most childhood deaths worldwide, instead of illness caused by polluted water.
Americans think aerosol cans are a major source of chlorofluorocarbon emissions, but CFC use in aerosols was banned in 1978. Older refrigerators and air conditioners are the problem.
They think beverage six-pack rings are a major cause of wildlife entanglement (instead of lost fishing lines) and that disposable diapers are clogging landfills (instead of paper products).
About 57% think tankers, offshore drilling, and coastal refineries were the major source of oil spills. Individuals dumping auto oil is the main source of oil pollution in rivers, lakes, and bays.
In the poll, 55% thought most electricity comes from renewable sources such as hydro and solar power. Just 27% knew that burning oil, coal, and wood accounts for 70% of U.S. electricity production.
And nearly half thought that factories cause most water pollution. Only 22% realized that rainwater polluted by fields, roads, parking lots, and such is the nation's leading water quality problem.
Copyright 1998 Oil & Gas Journal. All Rights Reserved.