Friday, April 20, 2007

Public overwhelmingly thinks global warming is a problem.

Three recent opinion polls suggest a large shift in public perceptions of climate change. We can probably credit the IPCC reports and AIT for that. First a roundup of the polls in the order they were taken. (Has anyone seen the first two covered in the press? Pointers are appreciated.)

The first poll was conducted by the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy and released in March of 2007. The poll surveyed 1000 adults the week after the IPCC Working Group 1 report was released (Feb 5-11). Among the findings:
  • 83% believe global warming is a serious problem (up from 70% in 2004) including 56% who think its "very serious"
  • More than two out of three (68%) Americans agree that global warming is something people can control. And fully 81% agree with the statement, “It is my responsibility to help reduce the impacts of global warming.”
  • Two of three Americans (67%) say that, if they had to, they could explain global warming or climate change “to someone I meet in passing.”
  • The most trusted source of information on environmental issues is scientists at major universities (76%) followed by the EPA (62%). George Bush and Republicans in Congress are the least trustworthy.
This last point is the most encouraging. The Inhofe's of the world may talk a lot from a place of prominence but people can mostly see through their bullshit.

I found out about this poll in a column by George Will (more on that later). I've seen no other coverage.

The second poll was conducted by USA Today and Gallup. This poll was published in USAToday's April 19th edition on page 7A. The byline with the poll is Marcy Mullins. In that issue, their were three stories on "going green" but no other reference to the poll. USA Today is part of the Rupert Murdoch empire so that isn't to surprising. Can anyone find this poll on the web?

The poll surveyed 1007 people from March 23-25 (after Al Gore's testimony to Congress).
  • 60% believe the effects of global warming have already begun
  • 38% say major and 28% say extreme changes will happen in the next 50 years if nothing is done about global warming
  • 58% think it takes more drastic measures then recycling, etc. to reduce global warming.
  • 46% think the government should require a surcharge on utility bills when energy-use limits are exceeded
  • 44% think vehicles that do not get at least 30 miles per gallon should be banned.
Wow. No one, and I mean no one, in any political office is talking about banning vehicles with less then 30 mpg and yet it already has 44% support.

The final poll actually does have some coverage from the Washington Post because it was their poll. Actually they conducted it with ABC News and Stanford. The poll surveyed 1002 adults from April 5-10 which includes the release of WGII's report. The article is by Juliet Eilperin and Jon Cohen. Their poll finds:
  • A third of Americans say global warming ranks as the world's single largest environmental problem, double the number who gave it top ranking last year.
  • 70% of Americans want more federal action on global warming, and about half of those surveyed think the government should do "much more" than it is doing now.
  • 42% think the government should require greater fuel efficiency for vehicles.
  • Americans are split on what causes global warming in the first place: 41 percent say the temperature rise stems mainly from human activities -- a 10-percentage-point increase from last year -- and 42 percent attribute it about equally to human and natural causes.
  • 84% think that average global temperatures have been rising over the past century, and more than half say weather has become more unstable where they live. Still, only four in 10 are "extremely" or "very" sure global warming is happening, and 56% continue to think there is "a lot" of disagreement among scientists about climate change.

Those last two points seem to contradict the other polls. I'll look more closely at the polls in another post. See also ABC News coverage of the same poll.

Overall, there is strong public belief that global warming is real and the government needs to do something. That's good news. The last two points of the Washington Post poll suggest sites like this one and RealClimate still have some work to do.

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