A new poll out Thursday on Americans’ attitudes about climate change presents sobering findings for those that favor aggressive action to curb U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases.
The survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press finds a sharp decline over the past year in the percentage of Americans who see solid evidence that global temperatures are rising. According to the survey, conducted between Sept. 30 and Oct. 4 among 1,500 adults reached on cell phones and landlines, fewer respondents also see global warming as a very serious problem; 35% say that today, down from 44% in April 2008.
The survey also points to a decline in the proportion of Americans who say global temperatures are rising as a result of human activity. Just 36% say that currently, down from 47% last year.
Not everything in the poll is bad news for those that favor capping U.S. emissions. According to the survey, a majority (56%) of Americans think the United States should join other countries in setting standards to address global climate change, while 32% say that the United States should set its own standards. And half of Americans favor setting limits on carbon emissions and making companies pay for their emissions, even if this may lead to higher energy prices.
On the other hand, more than half (55%) say they haven’t heard about so-called "cap and trade" legislation being considered in Congress. (Then again, Sen. John Kerry says he doesn’t know what "cap and trade" means, either.)
The poll’s findings come just days before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works is scheduled to hold hearings on legislation that calls for cutting U.S. emissions 20 percent beneath 2005 levels by 2020.
They also coincide with the release of a new Government Accountability Office study that says most federal, state and local officials have not yet taken steps to adapt to the impacts of global warming that America can expect.
Not surprisingly, opponents and supporters of carbon caps have very different takes on the poll’s findings.
"Perhaps the most interesting finding in this poll, aside from the precipitous drop in the number of Independents who believe global warming is a problem, is that the more Americans learn about cap-and-trade, the more they oppose cap-and-trade," says Sen. James Inhofe (R., Okla.), a longtime skeptic of climate-change warnings.
Daniel Weiss at the left-leaning Center for American Progress, says the findings point to the effectiveness of "right-wing media personalities" in "distorting science while the mainstream media remains trapped in its ‘he said, she said’ narrative" about the science.
Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center, says he’s a little surprised by the decline in the percentage of respondents who see solid evidence of global warming. On the other hand, Mr. Kohut said, "we have since the onset of the recession seen people giving lower priority to environmental issues" in polls.
Overall, Mr. Kohut says the disposition of most Americans appears to be "to want to do something" about climate change, "but it’s not as sharp as it would be in a different economic climate."