A growing number of Americans have begun to ask: How could I possibly be a victim?
According to a new study by the University of Michigan’s College of Public Health, it’s because most Americans are becoming increasingly aware of their rights under the law.
The study, which surveyed 1,400 U.S. adults, found that 62 percent of respondents said they were concerned that the law has made them less safe, compared to only 17 percent who said they thought the law had made them safer.
“It’s clear that the overwhelming majority of Americans are feeling some degree of anxiety about the environment,” said Rachelle Roush, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.
Roush said the study was part of a larger movement to fight climate change that has taken off in the last several years, spurred by President Donald Trump’s election in November.
The survey, conducted from June 2-10, found 57 percent of Americans now believe the environment is an issue they care about, compared with only 24 percent who didn’t believe the issue is an important one, the poll found.
“This is a very, very significant number of people who are questioning the law, questioning the way the law is being applied, questioning whether they have any rights,” Roushar said.
The issue of environmental justice has been gaining traction in recent years, as public opinion on the issue has become more progressive.
But the poll data shows that Americans still see the law as a threat to their safety, Rousam said.
“People are becoming more aware of what the law actually does, and they’re questioning it more,” she said.
“The more they see that, the more likely they are to question it.”
Rousah, a research associate at the Michigan Center for Health Policy and Research, said the poll findings are especially significant because the majority of respondents did not identify themselves as environmental activists, which has led many of them to avoid discussing their concerns with pollsters and the media.
“A lot of these folks feel they’re in a minority in terms of the legal status of their environment and it’s difficult for them to communicate,” she explained.
“I think that’s really going to be a defining moment for this country, because it’s going to change how people think about the environmental law.”
The poll, published Monday in the journal Public Health Reports, also found that about one in four Americans believe the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is too slow to enforce environmental laws, compared the same number who believe it is too fast.
The EPA is currently dealing with two lawsuits over the agency’s climate change regulations, including one brought by two coal companies, and is considering whether to open a third case, Rouslyh said.
Some people are not feeling so safe because of the lack of information about the law or the lack the opportunity to speak up, said Stephanie Osterholm, a professor of social work and director of the Center on Climate Change and Health at the University at Buffalo.
“If you’re not a lawyer, you don’t know what the laws are or how they apply, or whether you can take a legal action against them,” she added.
In response, the EPA has issued a memo urging pollsters to give people more options to share their concerns.
But for now, the most important thing for pollsters is to use information they have about the poll and what people are saying, Osterheimen said.
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