Here we are on the day before a long holiday weekend. A perfect day to bury bad news. So here goes.

The Green Gauge Report is a poll on environmental attitudes, based on 2,000 face-to-face interviews, conducted with a broad cross-section of demographics representative of the U.S. Census, undertaken by an arm of market-research outfit GfK NOP. They do it every year — though for some reason they skipped 2004.

Joel Makower discusses this year’s GGR in a post that tries — one might say ‘strains mightily’ — to put an optimistic spin on the results. But from what I’ve seen (and I’ve exchanged a few emails with Bob Pares, the guy who ran it), the results are almost uniformly discouraging. Consider this, from Joel’s post:

Here’s a breakdown of the study’s five market segmentations for 2005 and 1995 (the numbers don’t add up to 100 due to rounding):

  • True-Blue Greens — the most environmentally active segment of society: 11% of the U.S. population in 1995, 11% in 2005.
  • Greenback Greens — those most willing to pay the highest premium for green products: 7% in 1995, 8% in 2005.
  • Sprouts — fence-sitters who have embraced environmentalism more slowly: 31% in 1995, 33% in 2005.
  • Grousers — uninvolved or disinterested in environmental issues, who feel the issues are too big for them to solve: 14% in 1999, 14% in 2005.
  • Apathetics — the least engaged group who believe that environmental indifference is mainstream (referred to as “Basic Browns” in earlier Roper polls): 35% in 1995, 33% in 2005.

So: basically no change in the last decade in the number of folks genuinely concerned and engaged with environmental problems.

When it comes to the Bush administration, the highest percentage — 41% — think it’s done some environmentally good stuff, but should do more. Just 20% think it’s been negligent; 19% think it’s been peachy.

On a ranking of top concerns, only one environmental problem — "fuel/energy shortage" — breaks 20% (inflation/high prices is first at 29%). Air/water pollution hits 15%, roughly where it’s been for over a decade, and global warming is nowhere to be seen.

On a ranking of top environmental concerns, drinking-water contamination places first with 56%. Global warming is next to last, with 49%.

84% say they favor a balance between economic and environmental concerns — but honestly, who isn’t going to say that? The number of people clearly favoring environmental concerns above economic has shrunk considerably in the last two years. (So glad to see we’re still framing the two concerns in opposition rather than as inextricably linked. Sigh.)

Though there’s been a huge surge in worry about fuel shortages, and a concomitant rise in worry about energy dependence, this has been accompanied by a 28% rise since 2003 of those who strongly agree that "companies should use new ways to extract oil, coal & natural gas — that cause only minimal damage." Only a 4% rise in agreement that "we must find alternative sources/renewable energy now" and a 6% drop in belief in the power of energy conservation.

Fewer people are tracking the environmental records of large companies. Fewer are educating themselves about environmental issues. The vast majority — 82% — still use TV as their primary source of information on environmental problems (ugh).

The biggest movement since 2003 is where people look for solutions. 10% more look to the federal government; 10% fewer look to environmental groups. Great.

In short, the Green Gauge Report paints a picture of indifference, ignorance, and skewed priorities — which are hardly changing, and in some cases changing for the worse.

The grand hope, as I understand it, is supposed to be that "the influentials" — the cutting edge of culture, those who are five years ahead of cultural trends — are caring and talking quite a bit more than average folk about environmental stuff. But I suspect this has been true for a while, and those concerns don’t seem to be trickling down. And even among influentials, "destruction of rainforests" is ranked as the top environmental problem — global warming comes in dead last.

I’ll write a little more about what I think we can learn from all this in another post.