Wendys signNeed or want?Courtesy soundfromwayout via flickrAmericans concerned about climate change are far more likely to shop green than to call or write a lawmaker, according to a new poll from Yale and George Mason University. Of those who say they are “alarmed” by global warming, 75 percent say they have rewarded and punished companies based on their environmental performance, but most had not called or written their Congresspersons, according to survey director Ed Maibach.

Maibach leads the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason, which conducted the poll with Yale’s Project on Climate Change. He gives the following interpretation in an interview with Marc Gunther in GreenBiz.com:

“They are more comfortable expressing their wishes through their shopping patterns than they are by acting as citizens in a democracy.”

… Americans tend to see themselves as consumers, not citizens, Ed explained. “Therefore it’s not surprising that this is how many of us choose to express our wishes for a better world,” he said.

That’s a big claim, one that seems a little off to me. Couldn’t the poll suggest that smart respondents understand that money talks? To use the academic word, they know they have agency, however small, through their dollars. It’s less clear to them that calling or writing members of Congress does any good. That doesn’t mean Americans don’t see themselves as citizens. It means they see their elected leaders as unresponsive.

The poll, “Global Warming’s Six Americas 2009: An Audience Segmentation Analysis,” grouped respondents in six categories–Alarmed, Concerned, Cautious, Disengaged, Doubtful and Dismissive. Maibach’s conclusions are about the “alarmed” group. The “dismissive” group consisted mostly of members of Congress, who didn’t see any need to call themselves and demand less action on climate.