Americans’ Environmental Concerns: Rising With The Sea Level

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On Wednesday Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel met with counterparts from the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Honolulu, Hawaii, to discuss climate change and the development of a military strategy for dealing with its effects. One item under discussion at the time was cooperative military efforts on “non-traditional security challenges,” referring in part to the handling of the increasing natural disaster response needs worldwide.

The Asia-Pacific region is a critical part of the global economy, but its continued security and prosperity will be challenged by the impacts of climate change. This isn’t a challenge that nay nation can handle on its own,” wrote John Podesta, counselor to the president, in a White House Blog Post. The Defense Department’s 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review noted a similar need, stating that climate change “creates both a need and an opportunity for nations to work together.”

The post mentioned Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines as an example of a natural threat to national infrastructure and stability — but the United States has its own problems as well. Some, such as Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, required heavy military and rescue aid efforts, but others are on a smaller, less international scale — like California. The effects its continued drought are having on the state economy, workforce, as well as the fires that have broken out due to increased regional dryness, may not fall under the category of international concern, but they have brought attention to a recent and ongoing emphasis on environmental issues within the U.S. President Obama has made efforts to increase financial aid and food-stamps to agricultural workers out of jobs in California, and fire control has been a major issue.

According to FiveThirtyEight, 2013 was the driest year California’s ever seen, and “the current drought plaguing the heart of the state’s $44 billion agricultural industry may be the worst in 500 years.” California state Governor Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency in January, and a solid portion of the reservoirs in California are sitting below 30 percent.

In light of California’s dire circumstances and international concern, it makes sense that environmental concern is on the rise in the American public — as Gallup polls show to be the case. Ironically, though environmental concerns are on the rise, the one area seeing the least concern is rising water levels — or rather, climate change and global warming. Concern over the pollution of drinking water, contamination of soil and water by toxic waste, and the pollution of rivers, lakes, and reservoirs all saw a 7 percentage point increase from 2013 to 2014 in those who said that they personally worry about such problems “a great deal.”

Air pollution and the extinction of plants and animal species both saw a 6 percentage point increase, and the loss of tropical rain forests saw a 4 percentage point increase. Both climate change and global warming only saw a 2 and 1 percentage point increase respectively, from comparably already low percentages of concern on the issues. Still overall, concerns are rising — though predictably global warming is a concern that remains split on partisan lines — 56 percent of Democrats worry a great deal about it, with only 16 percent of Republicans saying the same.

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