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American Exceptionalism


The graph above is a bit small to read. Click on it for a larger version. It comes from a University of Maryland poll surveying popular attitudes toward global warming in 19 countries. The question is, "How high of a priority should the government place on global warming?" The scale goes from one to 10, with 10 being the highest priority. Americans gave it 4.71. By contrast, France said 8.03, and China offered up 8.86. Mexicans gave climate change above a nine. The only countries that placed as low a priority on averting climate change were the Palestinian Territories and Iraq. And even they were more concerned about global warming than Americans.

(Via the Vine.)

By Ezra Klein  |  August 5, 2009; 12:04 PM ET
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Since countries like Mexico, Chile, Nigeria, Kenya, etc. will be devastated by 2+ C rises in global temperatures it makes sense that they are very worried.

Ironically in the US the people who largely ignore global warming, e.g. mostly Red states, will end up getting the brunt of the effects of global temperature rises as farm land becomes unusable as water reserves dry out and desertification takes place. This almost seems to be the exact opposite of what groups who know they will be grievously hurt by rising temperatures are saying in the rest of the world. These groups in the US are essentially voting against their own interests.

Posted by: Guildsman | August 5, 2009 12:23 PM | Report abuse

Wow, who knew that Mexicans and Chinese were the world's leading environmentalists? My take would be that if we can get the U.S. Congress to do something about climate change, when faced with a totally indifferent public, other nations are highly likely to follow. Nobody seems to think that the Chinese government will do anything, but the regime is nothing if not practical. The Chinese population cares; the government will likely follow.

Also, it looks to me like there a couple different phenomena here. One is that Europeans care about the planet. The other is that people who live in countries with a lot of air pollution (China, Mexico) care about the planet (maybe they're confusing greenhouse gases with smog, but at least they're on the right track). As for Americans, I'd guess that the average is being pushed down by partisanship. I bet almost all partisan Republicans gave very low responses because, well, Obama supports a climate-change bill and therefore they're against it.

Posted by: HBurton1 | August 5, 2009 12:27 PM | Report abuse

"I bet almost all partisan Republicans gave very low responses because, well, Obama supports a climate-change bill and therefore they're against it."

Probably true. But also because (1) their corporate allies don't want to have to spend money to reduce their environmental impact; and/or (2) they don't believe that humans have contributed to climate change, or can do anything to ameliorate it (nor do they believe the earth is round, or that species evolve, for that matter); and/or (3) they believe they're going to be raptured any day now, so who cares?

Posted by: Janine1 | August 5, 2009 12:54 PM | Report abuse

How about this explanation: Americans are poorly educated, politically misled, self-centered greedfreaks that are ignorant sheep following the brownshirt goats into the slaughterhouse.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | August 5, 2009 1:08 PM | Report abuse

But that's just the rest of the world tricking us into passing climate change legislation. As soon as we do, they'll all go "psych!!" and we'll be stuck with an unfairly un-level playing field and our overburdened economy will collapse. Don't be fooled!

Posted by: jeirvine | August 5, 2009 1:52 PM | Report abuse

As one who voted for Obama, considers himself reasonably well-educated and politically informed, believes the earth is round and that species evolve, and is unconcerned about being raptured any day soon, I say three cheers that only 4.71 percent of Americans are ignorant sheep following the brownshirt goats into wanting the government to place the highest priority on global warming. There are too many important things that need attention.

Posted by: gramps2 | August 5, 2009 2:14 PM | Report abuse

The Russians, Chinese and Indians appear to be very concerned. Of course, they're not actually going to do anything about it.

Posted by: ostap666 | August 5, 2009 2:31 PM | Report abuse

It's pretty impressive that even in Iraq and Palestine, where people have actual wars going on around them, people are more informed and more concerned about AGW than in the US.

The "American Century" is clearly over.

Posted by: serialcatowner | August 5, 2009 2:34 PM | Report abuse

As David Kurtz noted, climate change denialism (or even "nothing can be done-ism") is a cheap and easy position to hold, because it doesn't require sacrifice, and you're not going to be around to face the consequences if you're proved disastrously wrong.

Posted by: pseudonymousinnc | August 5, 2009 2:37 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps Americans have a better sense of tradeoffs between spending on climate change and spending on other areas than people in other countries.

Was the question asked alone or as part of a comprehensive survey of government spending?

Posted by: blizzardkmb4 | August 5, 2009 2:57 PM | Report abuse

Furthermore, the question may be a better proxy for how much pollution exists in a country than another measure. Mexicans and Chinese care about global warming because their cities towns have very bad air.

Posted by: blizzardkmb4 | August 5, 2009 2:59 PM | Report abuse

You are giving Americans a huge free pass. The much more proximal explanation: Americans have been inundated with climate denialism in the media, from high places, and on the Internet for many years. They also do not see the connection between a green recovery and jobs, etc. which they care more immediately about. This poll is a tribute to the way information gets chopped up in our media landscape.

Posted by: michaelterra | August 5, 2009 3:16 PM | Report abuse

The second most encouraging thing about this is that Chinese people are so concerned: whatever ostap666 thinks about their governments, it increases the likelihood they will do something.

The most encouraging thing is the acknowledgment from Ezra that sometimes his graphs are hard to read and require a clickable enlarged version.

Posted by: vagueofgodalming | August 5, 2009 4:26 PM | Report abuse

The very homo sapien traits that have been responsible for the success of our species until recently - domination and exploitation of nature, other species, and other races and classes - are the ones now increasingly responsible for the mess we are in. We are hurtling inexorably in an arc that will result within a century or so in a planet that can support no more than a third of the current population. The messy transition that will follow will last a generation or two. After that there will be a chance to make a new beginning.

Posted by: pneogy | August 5, 2009 9:36 PM | Report abuse

Don't you guys see what's going on? Most citizens in these surveys are conflating pollution with carbon dioxide. (Of course CO2 is not a pollutant, it is beneficial, and everyone - even environmentalists - know this.) In China and Mexico, they are understandably concerned with pollution. But in the USA, where there is actually very little pollution due to our high standard of living (which is, in turn, due to the capitalism that environmentalists hate) people are, correctly, not overly concerned with pollution, or with "global warming."

Posted by: jimbrown1 | August 6, 2009 10:44 PM | Report abuse

Blizzardkmb4: "Was the question asked alone or as part of a comprehensive survey of government spending?"

The poll was about climate change only. A full report is here (9-page PDF):

Posted by: cpwinter | August 8, 2009 3:11 PM | Report abuse

michaelterra: "The much more proximal explanation: Americans have been inundated with climate denialism in the media, from high places, and on the Internet for many years."

Right you are. The media have not done a good job of covering climate change. I include the Washington Post and the New York Times in this, though they are far from the worst.

President Obama has put a pretty good team in place in the relevant agencies. But even he has not gotten behind ACES as much as I'd like him to. He has a lot on his plate, but I hope he takes a stronger position on the climate change bill.

Posted by: cpwinter | August 8, 2009 3:27 PM | Report abuse

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