Thursday is Earth Day – it’s also the 40th anniversary of the environmental movement.  According to recent poll numbers, however, Americans continue to put the economy (way) ahead of the environment.

That’s according to new poll numbers AEI’s Karlyn Bowman discusses in Forbes today. While Americans remain concerned with the issue of global warming, they view the economy as the nation’s number one concern:

In its March 2010 poll 53% of respondents told Gallup interviewers that “economic growth should be given priority even if the environment suffers to some extent,” while 38% chose the response “protection of the environment should be given priority, even at the risk of curbing economic growth.” This is the second year in a row that a majority have said the economy should be policymakers’ top focus.

…Other polls confirm that Americans are more concerned about the economy. A survey conducted in January by the Pew Research Center found that 44% said protecting the environment should be a top priority for the president and Congress. Almost twice as many, 83%, said strengthening the economy should be. Another Gallup question asks people to describe in their own words the top problem facing the country. In March 2% volunteered the environment or pollution, less than 1% global warming, while 31% mentioned the economy.

Gallup also says that “increased optimism about the environment” may explain people’s preference for greater attention to the economy. Indeed, the numbers in Gallup’s polls are striking. Forty-two percent in 2001 said they worried “a great deal” about the quality of the environment. That’s now 34%. Similarly, Americans are less worried about pollution of drinking water (65% said they worried a great deal about it in 1990, 50% in 2010), pollution of lakes and reservoirs (72% in 1989, 46% now), and air pollution (63% in 1989, 38% now).

As for global warming, 35% told Gallup it was a big worry in 1989, while 28% gave that response in March. In Pew’s polling 28% percent said dealing with global warming should be a top priority for policymakers. Of the 21 issues Pew examined in the poll, it ranked dead last.

Bowman adds:

These data should not be misunderstood. Americans think global warming is real and they support efforts to address it. Fifty-three percent of respondents in a March Gallup poll said warming has already begun or will begin in a few years. Their commitment to environmental protection hasn’t waned, nor has their conviction that we should spend considerable sums to address environmental problems.

It’s significant that Americans’ concerns about the economy outweigh their concerns about the environment.  Too often the environmental lobby pushes a radical agenda that ignores the devastating effects environmental legislation can have on our economy. Take the Warner-Lieberman 2007 Climate Bill, which was estimated to cost every American household an additional $7,000 in increased taxes and other fees.

In the lead-up to Earth Day, IWF has launched Balanced Education for Everyone (BEE), which encourages parents to get involved when it comes to “teaching” global warming in our schools. Public schools are often advancing a political agenda when it comes to the environment, rather than teaching science.