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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.

Each post will begin with a capsule summary. It will then proceed with captioned sections to amplify and justify the statements and conclusions of the summary. I'll present images and tables where helpful to develop a point, since "a picture is worth a thousand words".

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

American Public Opinion Supports Measures to Combat Global Warming

Summary.  A consortium of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication has summarized current American public opinion regarding global warming.  The public is worried about global warming and its effects, both on themselves and on future generations.  Voters across the political spectrum favor policy action to counteract global warming.  There is strong support for developing renewable energy and extending energy efficiency measures.  Among voters who say that election candidates’ positions on global warming would affect their vote, most agree the planet is warming and that human activity is responsible. 

A review of other surveys agrees with these findings.  We conclude that in the U. S., popular support for legislation effectively addressing global warming is strong.  It is clear that the public “has the legislators’ back” in this matter.

Introduction.  Implementing new policies intended to counteract worsening global warming, in the U. S. and other democratic countries, necessarily requires the support of the population.  Administrative measures put in place by the U. S. executive branch, as well as new legislative measures enacted in the Congress, both depend on the assent of the people.  Barring such popular approval neither administrative policies nor proposed legislation would become reality, since there have always been many powerful corporate and economic interests dedicated to preserving the status quo.

Public opinion on various aspects of the global warming issue has been the focus of an ongoing series of surveys carried out by a consortium of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication, involving Emily Vraga, Connie Roser-Renouf, Anthony Leiserowitz and Edward Maibach, among others.  Their most recent survey entitled “Climate Change in the American Mind”, was released in September 2012 (after the summer heat wave and drought in the Midwest, and an unusually intense season of forest wildfires in the West, but before the U. S. presidential election and before Hurricane Sandy struck the east coast).  This most recent survey worked with 839 subjects; their earlier surveys involved variously 774-832 subjects.

This post presents a selection of results from the most recent survey concerning the voting public’s attitudes toward global warming, including a breakdown by political affiliation.  These are categorized as Democrats (more liberal), Republicans (more conservative), and Independents (frequently called Unaffiliated by others).  This selection was released on Jan. 15, 2013 by Anthony Leiserowitz.

Survey Results.

There is strong concern among American voters about the effects of global warming.  Majorities of Democrats and Independents were worried about effects on them and succeeding generations.

Taking medium-scale or large-scale measures to reduce global warming is broadly supported, amounting to 69%, with 88% of Democrats and 78% of Independents in agreement.  Republicans in the past have been characterized as being more doubtful or skeptical concerning global warming and its effects.  Yet in this survey a majority of Republicans favor at least some level of effort to counteract global warming.

Various policies aimed at developing renewable energy sources are supported by an overwhelming majority of voters of all three affiliation groups. Such policies include eliminating current subsidies to the fossil fuel industry (many of which have been in place for almost 100 years).  Across all three groups, strong majorities favor additional research on developing renewable energy sources.

The public understands that carbon dioxide is a major greenhouse gas accumulating in the atmosphere.  Voters in the survey support regulating carbon dioxide emission (69%), including imposing a carbon tax.  There were slightly differing degrees of support for the tax depending on the use to which the proceeds would be applied; of the alternatives presented the most strongly supported were using the proceeds for job creation in renewable energy and energy efficiency, and promoting development of energy sources that minimize greenhouse gas emission.

93% of Democrats, 75% of Independents and 52% of Republicans were in agreement that global warming should be at least a medium priority for the President and Congress.  In the 6 months since the previous survey, these percentages for Democrats and Independents were 7-9% higher, while the percent for Republicans remained unchanged.

58% of registered voters say that the presidential candidates’ positions on global warming would be a factor in deciding how they would vote (note that this survey dates from before the U. S. presidential election).  Within this group, 83% agree that the temperature of the planet is warming, and 65% affirm that human activity is responsible for this warming. 

The atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases continues to rise inexorably year by year, as humanity across the globe relentlessly burns more fossil fuels to satisfy its energy demands.  Over the past decade, more, and more severe, climate and weather events negatively impacting human life and livelihood have occurred.  These frequently lead to loss of life, major damage to property and infrastructure, and loss of economic activity, all of which create a need for financial relief that is frequently borne by taxpayers.  These events are associated in the minds of the public with the idea that increased greenhouse gases are causing the increased extent of global warming that we are experiencing.

The Yale/George Mason survey shows that the voting public supports governmental action to help abate the worsening of global warming.  The public favors eliminating subsidies for the fossil fuel industry, and government-sponsored development of renewable energy sources.  American people, as represented by the survey, support a carbon tax whose proceeds would be applied to several objectives including job creation in renewable energy and energy efficiency, and development of innovations in renewable energy.

The survey results developed by the Yale/George Mason consortium are corroborated in other recent public opinion surveys on global warming.  In a review of several surveys ClimateNexus reports similar results as of Dec. 18, 2012.  Thus they were able to report that Hurricane Sandy, the record melting of Arctic Sea ice, and other North American weather patterns already mentioned have reinforced in the public mind that global warming is happening “right here, right now”.  Global warming acted to make such disasters and extremes worse than they would otherwise have been.  The harms to Americans are understood by the public.

In another analysis, Krosnick and MacInnis (Daedalus, Winter 2013, Vol. 142, pp. 26-39; (doi:10.1162/DAED_a_00183) ) similarly find the American public understands the increase in global warming, its origins from human activity, and the need to embark on policies to mitigate warming.  They conclude that the failure to enact legislation combating continued warming cannot be ascribed to a lack of popular support.

Policymakers should be heartened by the results of surveys such as those summarized here.  It is clear that the public “has the legislators’ backs”.  In view of the strong scientific basis underlying our understanding of global warming and its worsening trends, it is highly necessary to embark on measures to abate the process as soon as possible, and as intensively as possible.  Public opinion supports enacting such measures.

© 2013 Henry Auer

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