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Most are environmentalists to a degree

Chances are, you are an environmentalist.

Maybe not a dyed-in-the-wool, tree-hugging, Edward Abbey-reading, take a ride on the Rainbow Warrior kind. But an environmentalist nonetheless.According to a study released by Wirthlin Worldwide, which has offices in Salt Lake City and 11 other cities around the world, two out of every three Americans (68 percent) place themselves squarely in the pro-environmental camp. Only 4 percent admit they are unsympathetic to environmental concerns.

All of which seems to support the contention that environmentalism has "become deeply rooted in the U.S. national psyche. Since its extremist beginnings 30 years ago, environmentalism has matured, gaining popular support and becoming part of the mainstream."

In effect, environmentalism "is not just about saving whales and rain forests anymore," the report states.

Rather, the study asserts that Americans' concerns about the environment are rooted in an increasing awareness that such issues affect their personal health and well-being. One in three (37 percent) says current environmental problems have harmed him personally, while over half (55 percent) believe the ozone layer is getting worse, and 42 percent believe the air quality in their community has gotten worse.

And they believe the environment must be improved regardless of cost. The report, titled "Environmentalism: No Letting Up," indicates that 76 percent of Americans strongly or somewhat agree that "protecting the environment is so important that requirements and standards cannot be too high and continuing environmental improvements must be made regardless of cost."

Furthermore, one in four Americans believes that economic growth should be sacrificed to protect the environment.

Nevertheless, the report argues that the 1990s are characterized by a more moderate view that it is possible to balance environmental protection and economic growth. Some 70 percent believe there can be a balance between economic growth and the environment.

"U.S. industries have shown that it is possible to thrive while at the same time making measurable progress on multiple fronts against pollution," the report states. "With increasing frequency, business and environmental leaders are working together in a spirit of collaboration rather than confrontation."

The poll also found that Americans' level of concern about the environment is rising. Some 79 percent said they strongly agreed or somewhat agreed that environmental and pollution problems would get significantly worse during their lifetimes.

According to the study, 76 percent said they are more concerned about the environment today than they were five years ago. Almost half (49 percent) said there was too little government regulation and involvement in environmental protection; only 21 percent said there was too much.

"Part of the maturing environmentalism is a shared realization that everybody must work together toward solutions," the report states. "Business and industry have to clean up their operations, government has to play watchdog to make sure they do, and the public needs to do its part to adopt an Earth-friendly lifestyle."

The Wirthlin study suggests that the current high level of concern over the environment may be attributed, at least in part, to several years of a strong national economy. When consumer confidence is high, public concern for social issues and the environment is heightened.

When the economy is bad, the environment tends to get pushed to a back burner. "It is easy to express concern about the environment, but when push comes to shove, people are not always willing to pay the price," the report says.

Among the study's other findings, some 41 percent of Americans say environmental groups exaggerate the threats to the environment to garner public attention, while 56 percent believe the threats are as serious as claimed.

By comparison, 37 percent believe the media exaggerate threats to the environment, while 60 percent take the threats as reported seriously.

The study also found that:

- Thirty-two percent of Americans have stopped buying a product because the manufacturer of that product pollutes the environment; 67 percent have not.

- Seventy percent are confident that the foods they eat are safe; 30 percent are not.

- When it comes to correcting environmental problems, Americans' highest priorities are planting more trees than are harvested, recycling more materials, disposing of toxic and hazardous wastes, water pollution and air pollution, in that order.

- When asked which political party would do a better job protecting the environment, 20 percent said the Democrats and 11 percent said Republicans. Almost half (46 percent) believed it would require both parties, while 22 percent believed neither party would a better job.

Wirthlin Worldwide, headed by former Ronald Reagan pollster Richard Wirthlin, conducted the survey Aug. 22-31. It involved telephone interviews with 1,040 individuals and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent.