Public Environmental Concern in Decline:

The NYT reports on a recent poll that shows declining public concern about environmental problems, including global warming. This confirms that environmental problems remain "second tier" public concerns that are easily overshadowed by other issues, such as the economy or national security.

In the poll, released Thursday by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center, global warming came in last among 20 voter concerns; it trailed issues like addressing moral decline and decreasing the influence of lobbyists. Only 30 percent of the voters deemed global warming to be "a top priority," compared with 35 percent in 2008.

"Protecting the environment," which had surged in the rankings from 2006 to 2008, dropped even more precipitously in the poll: only 41 percent of voters called it a top priority, compared with 56 percent last year.

In contrast, dealing with the nation's energy problems ranked sixth in the poll — just behind education and social security — with 60 percent of voters endorsing it as a top priority. . . .

Social scientists say that environmental concerns are often the first to fall off the table when any more immediate threat surfaces. Andrew Kohut, the president of the Pew Research Center, said a similar pattern was seen in the Pew poll after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when second-tier issues faded in voters' minds.

Of course, some advocates of aggressive climate change policies remain undaunted, and hope to spin such poll results in support of their policy positions.

some experts in climate and energy policy say, given Americans' continuing concern about filling their gas tanks and lighting their homes, Mr. Obama might still succeed in shoring up public support by packaging his climate policy as part of a larger push for a safer, cleaner menu of energy choices.

The problem with this view is that public concern about energy security and the like tends to focus on energy prices. Yet any climate change policies that meaningfully limit greenhouse gas emissions will necessarily cause energy prices to rise. This will be a problem for climate change policy proposals until the public believes that global warming fears justify higher energy prices -- and I don't see many political leaders yet willing to make this case.