Thursday, February 28th 2013, 10:46 AM EST
Concerns about the environment have reached a two-decade low since the start of the financial crisis, a global survey has revealed.
Fewer people now consider pollution, species loss and fresh water shortages to be 'very serious' problems than at any time since tracking began 20 years ago.
Fears over global warming are far lower than they were between 20003 and 2008, with less than one person in two regarding it as 'very serious'
Concern about air and water pollution, as well as biodiversity, is significantly below where it was even in the Nineties, found the poll of more than 22,000 people in 22 countries.
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Many of the sharpest falls have taken place in the past two years, as increased fears of economic meltdown pushed worries of man-made environmental catastrophe from the public consciousness.
Climate concern dropped first in industrialised countries, but this year’s figures show that concern has now fallen in major developing economies such as Brazil and China as well.
The findings are drawn from the GlobeScan Radar annual tracking poll. A total of 22,812 people in 22 countries were interviewed face-to-face or by telephone during the second half of 2012.
Twelve of these countries have been regularly polled on environmental issues since 1992.
David Nussbaum, head of environmental pressure group WWF UK, told The Independent that political leadership was required to maintain the fight against climate change amid a backlash against costly green energy solutions.
'Of course people's concerns about climate change changed in 2009 when economic pressures were rising... [But] the problems haven't gone away,' he said.
'There are longer-term concerns that may not seem imminent that are extremely serious.
'A skilled political leader has got to grapple with how you act and respond to the immediate pressure people feel while helping [to take] account of the wider concerns and interests.'
The perceived seriousness of climate change has fallen particularly sharply since the unsuccessful UN Climate Summit in Copenhagen in December 2009, GlobeScan found.
That summit ended in disarray after political leaders failed to agree a legally binding deal to slow the increase in greenhouse gas emissions said to be affecting global climate.
Despite the steep fall in environmental concern over the past three years, majorities still consider most of these environmental problems to be 'very serious', the research showed.
Water pollution is viewed as the most serious environmental problem among those tested, rated by 58 per cent as very serious.
Climate change, however, is rated second least serious out of the six, with 49 per cent viewing it as 'very serious'.
GlobeScan Chairman Doug Miller said: 'Scientists report that evidence of environmental damage is stronger than ever—but our data shows that economic crisis and a lack of political leadership mean that the public are starting to tune out.
'Those who care about mobilising public opinion on the environment need to find new messages in order to reinvigorate a stalled debate.'
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