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This blog is expressly directed to readers who do not have strong training or backgrounds in science, with the intent of helping them grasp the underpinnings of this important issue. I'm going to present an ongoing series of posts that will develop various aspects of the science of global warming, its causes and possible methods for minimizing its advance and overcoming at least partially its detrimental effects.

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Monday, February 16, 2015

Americans Support Action on Global Warming

Reports showing that global warming and its worldwide effects on human lives have become more common in recent months and years.  Here, we summarize the results of some polls of American public opinion on this subject.

Polls concerning the attitudes of the American public on global warming have appeared recently.  The results show that a majority of Americans, as represented by the poll samples, are in favor of taking action to combat global warming.  The data summarized in this section group the polls together.  They are presented more fully, considering each poll separately, in the Details section at the end of this post.

A significant majority of Americans thinks that global average temperatures are rising.  Of these, most think that human activity is giving rise to the warming of the planet, while only a relatively small portion of this group thinks that the warming originates from natural causes or processes.  A majority of Americans favors action to combat global warming, such as promoting development of renewable sources of energy.  The various polls pay differing degrees of attention to the attitudes of their respondents based on political or cultural typing (see Details). 

Discussion 

The poll results cited here show that the American public supports action on global warming.  More than half of Americans think that warming is a reality, which necessarily reflects the results of objective scientific data as well as perceptions of its effects on individuals’ lives.  A majority of Americans support regulation of carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas (see Details below).  As an example of this approach, a majority of Americans favor limiting emissions of carbon dioxide from existing coal-fired power plants (see Details below).  A majority also supports policies that would promote development of renewable energy sources (see Details below).

These polls show that there is majority support among the American public for action by the government to combat global warming.  The results should be taken seriously by their elected representatives in Congress.  It maybe inferred from these polls that the American public would look favorably on their elected representatives if they were to propose and support legislation to address global warming.  According to the poll results this should include substantive, effective measures to constrain further greenhouse gas emission.  It may be inferred that actions should also include plans to construct infrastructure projects that would increase the resilience of the nation against extreme weather and climate events.

Historical Background

The United States has never developed a national policy to combat global warming by enactment of laws in the Congress.  The Kyoto Protocol, negotiated under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, included only developed (i.e., already industrialized) countries of the world.  Kyoto set modest goals of reducing greenhouse gas emission rates for the covered nations; it remained in effect until the end of 2012.    Each covered nation had to ratify the Protocol in its national legislature in order for that nation to be governed by its terms.  Being a foreign treaty, it was considered only in the U. S. Senate, which unanimously voted against ratification in 1997.

Within the U. S. national legislation was first proposed as the Climate Stewardship Act by Senators McCain, Lieberman and others in 2003.  It proposed a cap-and-trade market-based system to lower greenhouse gases.  It failed to gain passage.  Later versions, brought forth in 2005 and 2007, likewise did not pass Congress.

The American Clean Energy and Security Act was put forth by Representatives Waxman and Markey in 2009.  It also envisioned market-based emission limits based on a cap-and-trade system.  It passed the House of Representatives, by 219-212, the first time any global warming legislation was approved in either branch of Congress.  The Act failed to gain approval in the Senate, however.

In reaction to the absence of enacted laws to address global warming, President Obama has taken executive actions to implement important, significant policies.  He has acted to double the average fuel efficiency of motor vehicles in two stages, first increasing to 36.6 miles per gallon (mpg) by 2017 and to 54.5 mpg by 2025. 

Likewise, the President has acted to limit greenhouse gas emission rates from existing large-scale electric power plants by proposing constraints that would require them to become more efficient.  The goal is to reduce CO2 emissions from electricity generation by 30% below the levels emitted in 2005 by the year 2030.  A similar earlier proposal covers only newly-constructed electricity generating plants.

More comprehensively, the President’s National Climate Plan of 2013 lays out a comprehensive set of initiatives intending to lower rates of emission of greenhouse gases, increase efficiency of energy usage and develop projects that would strengthen the resilience of the U. S. economy to the effects of extreme weather and climate events. 

Details 

The Pew Research Center (Pew) is an established opinion research organization that gathers information on the attitudes of the public on a wide range of issues.  It professes to be nonpartisan and does not engage in policy development.  After probing the political attitudes of a large number of Americans Pew typed respondents into seven groups.  These range from Steadfast Conservatives (12% of the adult population) and Business Conservatives (10%), both of which tend strongly to associate with Republicans, to Solid Liberals (15%), associated with Democrats.  Four groups in between these (each comprising 12-15% of the population have complex attitudes relating to political issues; they are distributed relatively evenly between Republicans and Democrats.

Pew released a poll on global warming and many other political issues on June 26, 2014, based on results from 10,013 respondents.  They found that 61% of those surveyed think warming is occurring, while 35% think there is “no solid evidence of warming” (percentages presented here and below may not total to 100% because of rounding errors and omission of small groups).  Among those thinking there is no solid evidence, those believing it “just is not happening” and those believing they “don’t know enough yet” are each 17% of all respondents.  Among those thinking warming is happening, 40% of the poll respondents think it is “caused by human activity” and 18% think it is “caused by natural patterns”.

On deeper study of respondents to this question 75% and 71% of the two conservative types identified by Pew think there is “no solid evidence of warming”.  Among the remaining types between 61% and 91% of each type think warming is happening; with 91% of Solid Liberals thinking so.  78% of Solid Liberals ascribe warming to human activity. 

Pew examined attitudes concerning environmental policy and its effect on jobs.  For the poll population at large, 56% believe “stricter enviro(nmental) laws are worth the cost, while 39% say “stricter enviro(nmental) laws cost too many jobs.  85% of Steadfast Conservatives and 84% of Business Conservatives believe laws are too costly, whereas among the remaining types between 47% and 93% think stricter laws are worth the cost.  For this question also the Solid Liberal type is the one expressing the 93% result.

Pew further queried attitudes concerning development of fossil fuel versus alternative energy sources.  65% of all respondents want to “develop wind, solar, (and) hydrogen alternatives”, whereas 28% want to “expand oil, coal and natural gas”.  66% of Steadfast Conservatives and 64% of Business Conservatives want to expand fossil fuel development, whereas 64-95% of the remaining types preferred to develop alternative energy.  Again, Solid Liberals were the type with the highest percent, 95%.

The Yale University Project on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication (here, CCC) jointly produce polls surveying the public’s attitudes on global warming.  In a report released Jan. 13, 2015, CCCcollated results from six surveys taken over three years, from March 2012 to October 2014.  Its conclusion is encapsulated in the title of the report: “Not All Republicans Think Alike About Global Warming”.  The six surveys provided 5,513 registered voters, of whom 2,330 were Republicans or leaning toward the Republican party. 

Almost two-thirds (66%) of registered voters think global warming is happening; including 44% of the 2,330 Republicans.

Seven out of 10 (70%) of registered voters support, either strongly or somewhat, a policy of regulating carbon dioxide, a principal greenhouse gas that is produced when fossil fuels are burned, as a pollutant; this position includes a majority (56%) of all Republicans.

Almost two-thirds (64%) of registered voters support, strongly or somewhat, a policy of setting strict carbon dioxide emission limits on existing coal-fired power plants in order to reduce global warming and improve public health;  slightly less than half (44%) of all Republicans supported this position.

Three-quarters (75%) of registered voters, including almost two-thirds (64%) of Republicans, supported, strongly or somewhat, providing tax rebates for people who purchase energy-efficient vehicles or solar panels.

Republicans surveyed by CCC identified themselves as being in one of four groups: Liberal Republicans (4.5%), Moderate Republicans (23%), Conservative Republicans (55%), and Tea Party Republicans (18%; Tea Party Republicans are generally considered to be far right-wing and/or libertarian in political outlook).  Support for the four positions mentioned above was highest, always more than half, among Liberal Republicans and Moderate Republicans (variously ranging between about 60% and about three-quarters) of each these two groups.  Support by Conservative Republicans for these policies ranged between 38% and 63%; Tea Party Republican support ranged between 23% and 46%.

The New York Times, Stanford University and Resources for the Future (NSR)  conducted a poll of 1,006 adults in the U. S. on global warming, in the period January 7-22, 2015.  The survey broke out results for the 103 Hispanic respondents, in view of the perceived importance of this group of voters in the 2016 presidential election.  Hispanics (H) felt more personally affected by harms brought about by global warming than the 738 non-Hispanic whites (NHW).  A large majority of Hispanics felt that the issue is highly important to them, and a similar proportion believe the U. S. government should take action to counter global warming. 

The NSR poll found that more Hispanics identify themselves as Democrats or Independents, compared to non-Hispanic whites.  The Times report surmises that Hispanics feel more personally affected by global warming than other groups because they are poorer and live in areas adjacent to sources of greenhouse gas and other forms of pollution.  It notes that Gabriel Sanchez, a political scientist at the University of New Mexico believes “Latinos are actually among the most concerned about the environment, particularly global warming….To ignore the environment [as an issue important for Latinos] is to ignore something that a large section of the Latino population sees as important.”

Because of the small sample size of the Hispanic (H) group in the NSR poll, the margin of error for its answers is ±12%, while that for Non-Hispanic Whites (NHW) is ±4%.

The poll found that if nothing is done to curb global warming, 50% of NHWs and 57% of Hs think it would hurt them personally either a great deal, a lot, or a moderate amount.  Global warming is considered to be either extremely important, very important or somewhat important among 63% of NHWs and 79% of Hs.  70% of NHWs and 78% of Hs think the U. S. government should do either a great deal, a lot/quite a bit, or a moderate amount/some about global warming.
 
© 2015 Henry Auer