WASHINGTON - A Washington Post poll shows that most Americans think the world's natural environment has deteriorated over the past decade, and more than six in 10 say human activity is making the problem worse.
According to the poll, twice as many Americans think the environment will get worse over the next decade as think it will get better. More than three quarters of those who see an eroding environment say humans have a mostly negative impact. Even among those who say the environment has not changed or has improved in recent years, a slim majority -- 52 percent -- say people are making things worse.
Americans' views of the environment divide along party lines, according to the poll. More than seven in 10 Democrats and independents alike say human activity has had a "mostly negative" effect on the environment over the past decade; only a bare majority of Republicans agree. Democrats and independents are also more apt to say the environment has gotten worse over the past decade, and are more downbeat about its future prospects.
U.N. Foundation President Timothy Wirth, who attended the Rio summit, said groups with an economic interest in exploiting natural resources and burning fossil fuels are helping to shape public attitudes.
"The scientific evidence for deterioration is overwhelming and almost universally shared," Wirth, a former senator from Colorado, wrote in an e-mail. "The polling data suggests that the deniers, who have much to gain financially by continuing to use resources in an unsustainable fashion, are having a real impact on American public opinion."
Looking forward, four in 10 Americans expect the environment to get worse in the coming decade -- similar to the number who think it will hold steady -- and about two in 10 think it will get better.
And Glenn Prickett, the Nature Conservancy's chief external affairs officer, wrote in an e-mail that "the best news from Rio" is that both political and business leaders are finally accepting the idea "that a healthy environment is good for the economy. The question isn't 'whether' we should take care of the environment anymore, it's 'how' we can do it."