The day after 'super storm' Sandy, the coastal community of Breezy Point, in Far Rockaway, Queens remains devastated by fire and flooding. Andrew Lichtenstein / Corbis

By Larry O'Hanlon
15 November 2012

(Discovery News) – A large majority of Americans now say global warming should be a priority for the president and Congress, according to a new report by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. The report is based on a national survey conducted in early September – well before hurricane Sandy provided even more persuasive evidence that climate is changing and sea levels are rising.

General public concerns about climate change have been growing over the past few years and generally corresponds to a rise in attention the matter is getting in the media, said Anthony Leiserowitz, the director of the Yale project. That, in turn, has a lot to do with what kind of weather is making the news, he said.

"2011 there were 14 weather events that cost more than $1 billion,” said Leiserowitz. “They were staggering. Many Americans were beginning to connect the dots themselves.”

According to the Yale report, 88 percent of Americans say the U.S. should make an effort to reduce global warming, even if it has economic costs. Of that majority, 44 percent percent favor a medium-scale effort, even if it has moderate economic costs and 24 percent (one in four) support a large-scale effort even if there are large economic costs. About one in five (19 percent) support a small-scale effort, even if it has small economic costs.

These numbers are much higher than a few years ago, said Leiserowitz, because not only were fewer weather events making the news, but the economic recession pushed climate change out of the headlines and. therefore, out of many peoples’ minds.

“What’s been different about this (recent) period is that we’ve had one (weather) event after another,” Leiserowitz told Discovery News. “People are actively trying to interpret their world. They start to see a pattern.”

That’s a pattern noticed as well by NASA climate scientist and  RealClimate blogger Gavin Schmidt.

“There is a lot of weather in concerns about climate change,” said Schmidt. “(Public opinion) is very finicky and to a large extent driven by weather.” […]

The nationally representative survey,  available here, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent with a confidence level of 95 percent. The study was funded by the Surdna Foundation, the 11th Hour Project, the Grantham Foundation, and the V.K. Rasmussen Foundation.

Most Americans Favor Action on Climate Change


  • A large majority of Americans (77%) say global warming should be a “very high” (18%), “high” (25%), or “medium” priority (34%) for the president and Congress. One in four (23%) say it should be a low priority.
  • Nearly all Americans (92%) say the president and the Congress should make developing sources of clean energy a “very high” (31%), “high” (38%), or “medium” priority (23%). Very few say it should be a low priority (8%).
  • A large majority of Americans (88%) say the U.S. should make an effort to reduce global warming, even if it has economic costs. A plurality (44%) favors a medium-scale effort, even if it has moderate economic costs. One in four (24%) supports a large-scale effort even if there are large economic costs. And one in five (19%) supports a small-scale effort, even if it has small economic costs.
  • Majorities also support funding more research into renewable energy sources (73%), providing tax rebates for people who purchase energy-efficient vehicles or solar panels (73%), regulating carbon dioxide (CO2) as a pollutant (66%), eliminating all subsidies for the fossil-fuel industry (59%), and expanding offshore drilling for oil and natural gas off the U.S. coast (58%).
  • A majority of Americans say they would vote for a candidate who supports a revenue neutral carbon tax if it created more American jobs in the renewable energy and energy efficiency industries (61% would support such a candidate), decreased pollution by encouraging companies to find less polluting alternatives (58%), or was used to pay down the national debt (52%).
  • Asked who has influence on elected officials’ decisions about global warming, Americans think the big players are large campaign contributors (50% say they have “a lot” of influence) or fossil- fuel companies (42%). Fewer think renewable energy companies (23%), environmentalists (22%), or climate scientists (20%) have a lot of influence on elected officials.

Public Support for Climate and Energy Policies in September 2012

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