60 Minutes/Vanity Fair poll: The Environment

New poll finds many Americans think if global warming is real, humans can handle it

Welcome to the 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair poll for June 2016. This month's poll topic is a big one. It's the environment which is comprised of all things existing naturally on Earth. Think rocks, water, air and life of all stripes. Our environment has been around a long time. If the history of the world was compressed into one year, it has been estimated that primitive humans would have shown up on December 31, at around 9 p.m. and the Industrial Revolution which may have signaled the start of man's environmental challenges, would have started about two seconds ago. Nature may be our greatest treasure. Einstein advised us to "look deep into nature and then you will understand everything better" and in his essay "Nature," Emerson observed "to the attentive eye, each moment of the year has its own beauty, and in the same field, it beholds, every hour, a picture which was never seen before, and which shall never be seen again." Another picture that was never seen before was planet Earth as seen from space by our astronauts who were humbled and moved to tears by how beautiful and fragile and interconnected it is. Marshall McLuhan famously observed, "there are no passengers on spaceship earth. We are all crew." Do you think it is possible for us to protect the environment and ensure economic growth at the same time? Now our results...


1) Three out of four Americans think we can have our air and breathe it too, or to put it another way, that we can both protect the environment and ensure economic growth at the same time. Sixteen percent say we should protect the environment first even if it means doing less for economic growth and eight percent went for economic growth first even if it meant doing less to protect the environment. As we become more enlightened about conservancy and the need for social and economic justice hopefully we can find a balance between the two that works. Few said it better than Mahatma Gandhi when he presciently foretold, "there is a sufficiency in the world for man's need but not for man's greed."


2) Three out of four Americans tend to think of planet Earth as an integrated system that is a living organism unto itself and 18 percent think of Earth as a non-living object with life forms on it. A while back a group of scientists developed a hypothesis called Gaia theory named for the ancient Greek goddess, known as the great mother of all Earth. It tells of a self-regulating Earth that constantly readjusts to maintain the delicate balance required to perpetuate life on Earth. Considering the alternative, that theory sounds pretty good.


3) It's time to get real folks. Six out of 10 Americans believe that most scientific studies on global warming conclude that it is real, one in four feel the studies are divided with no real consensus and only one in 10 think they conclude it is not real. What if everyone on Spaceship Earth could at least acknowledge that we could use a little more cleaning up and a little more conservation. Can you imagine the cumulative effect of billions of people doing their little part for the cause? Now that would be strength in numbers.


4) Two out of three Americans think it's a cop-out for a political leader to avoid giving an opinion on global warming by saying they're not a scientist but three out of 10 disagree and think this is a reasonable position. The American people have spoken and by a two-thirds majority, they think that politicians who equivocate or hedge on giving their opinion about global warming are full of hot air.


6) One in four Americans said they did not know which U.S. president ordered the first formal study of global warming. Twenty-one percent chose Jimmy Carter followed by Barack Obama 19 percent, Reagan 17 percent Teddy Roosevelt 10 percent and Nixon 7 percent. Those aforementioned Democratic cynics might be surprised to learn that the Republicans on the list were responsible for starting the modern conservation movement (Roosevelt) and founding the EPA (Nixon). By the way the president who ordered the first formal study was Ronald Reagan and he might have set a nonpartisan tone during his 1984 State of the Union address when he said, "preservation of our environment is not a liberal or conservative challenge, it's common sense."


7) If global warming turns out to be real, 45 percent of Americans think the human race can adapt to it, 42 percent think that it will likely threaten our future existence and 11 percent said it's not their problem, they won't be around to see it. Darwin described adaptation as "adjusting to environmental conditions to become better suited to survive and reproduce." Here's hoping the Earth and it's "natural selection" will still want us to hang around in that possible and uncertain future.


8) Fifty-seven percent of Americans think it's a good idea for colleges to stop investing in fossil fuels because it will send an important message that will help to reduce global warming and 35 percent think it's a bad idea because these colleges and universities use fossil fuels every day and it will do nothing to reduce global warming. If a university's first imperative is to teach their students well, wouldn't this be an ideal opportunity to dispense with symbolic activism and get some skin in the game?


9) Americans are very evenly divided as to which eradication would do the most good for the environment. It's virtually a dead heat (no pun intended) between Nuclear Power 22 percent, China 22 percent, Cars 21 percent and disposable diapers 21 percent. Cows (6 percent) and central heating (2 percent) bring up the rear. The top-vote getter with men (25 percent) was the world's most populous country China and the top pick for women (25 percent) was disposable diapers.


10) If you live in a low lying oceanfront area, don't get too comfortable you may have to move, but at least you will be missed. Twenty-one percent would most miss the North Pole followed by New Orleans 19 percent, Miami 19 percent, The Netherlands 9 percent, Venice 9 percent, Coney Island 6 percent and Bangladesh 4 percent. If a future "Waterworld" is in the cards, Americans seem to be most worried about what will happen to Santa and his team.


11) If global warming turns out to be real, 24 percent of Americans will most look forward to no more "titanic" mishaps like ships crashing into icebergs followed by Spring Break in Canada 21 percent, cheap oceanfront property in Ohio 19 percent and no more singing "White Christmas" 15 percent. We could probably adjust to the top three, but all kidding aside, no more singing White Christmas?