By Kevin Miller
Maine residents are deeply concerned to downright pessimistic about the state of the environment and overwhelmingly believe that humans are driving temperatures higher around the globe, according to results of a survey released Wednesday.
Sixty-one percent of Mainers rated today’s natural environment as being in “much worse” or “somewhat worse” shape than just 10 years ago in the poll conducted by Portland-based Market Decisions.
Maine residents were split, however, on the overall current condition of the environment, with 30 percent giving it good or excellent marks and 30 percent rating it as poor or very poor. Thirty-nine percent of respondents said the environment was in fair shape.
The survey of 403 residents age 18 or older was conducted this spring and carries a margin of error of about 4.9 percent.
Market Decisions modeled its survey questions after a larger national poll conducted in March by ABC News, Time magazine and Stanford University. As a result, it is possible to compare, at least anecdotally, Mainers’s attitudes on global warming with other U.S. residents.
For instance, 90 percent of Maine residents indicated they believe temperatures around the world have risen during the past century. Approximately 85 percent of respondents in the national poll agreed that global warming is “probably happening.”>/p>
Forty-seven percent of Mainers identified global warming as “extremely important” or “very important” to them personally, compared to 40 percent in the national poll.
Curtis Mildner, president of Market Decisions, said his firm has been conducting polls on environmental issues for years and that the environment is a “core value” in Maine. Mildner also said that unlike other areas of the country, where levels of concern about environmental issues often depend on demographics, an “environmental consciousness kind of pervades” every group in Maine.
“There clearly should be an interest among [Maine] politicians in addressing global warming because it’s important to citizens,” Mildner said.
Greg Zielinski, a former Maine state climatologist and researcher at the University of Maine’s Climate Change Institute, agreed that Mainers as a whole tend to be more interested in or in touch with the natural world than many people in other areas of the country.
That could help explain why Maine residents are more concerned about global warming or the state of the environment than residents elsewhere.
President Bush fared worse in the Maine poll, with 58 percent of Maine participants giving the president poor marks for his handling of environmental issues compared to 53 percent of participants in the national poll.
At a ratio of 40 percent to 31 percent, Maine residents also were more likely than Americans as a whole to lay the blame for global warming squarely at the foot of humankind. Forty three percent of the Maine respondents, compared to 49 percent of Americans, said human and natural causes were equally to blame.
The survey also found that nearly 60 percent of Maine respondents believe temperatures where they live have been warmer during the past three years. Another 78 percent of respondents said they think global weather patterns have been more unstable during the past three years, compared to 70 percent in the national poll.
Zielinski, who is now a research professor with UMaine’s School of Marine Sciences, said Maine residents’s beliefs concerning unstable weather patterns could be attributable to the fact that weather disasters around the globe simply get so much more media attention today than in the past.
“Overall, I guess the results didn’t surprise me,” Zielinski said.