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Poll Finds Majority See Threat in Global Warming

By John M. Broder and Marjorie Connelly (The New York Times) - April 26, 2007

Americans in large bipartisan numbers say the heating of the earth’s atmosphere is having serious effects on the environment now or will soon and think that it is necessary to take immediate steps to reduce its effects, the latest New York Times/CBS News poll finds.

Ninety percent of Democrats, 80 percent of independents and 60 percent of Republicans said immediate action was required to curb the warming of the atmosphere and deal with its effects on the global climate. Nineteen percent said it was not necessary to act now, and 1 percent said no steps were needed.

Several recent international reports have concluded with near certainty that human activities are the main cause of global warming since 1950. The poll found that 84 percent of Americans see human activity as at least contributing to warming.

The poll also found that Americans want the United States to support conservation and to be a global leader in addressing environmental problems and developing alternative energy sources to reduce reliance on fossil fuels like oil and coal.

But when it comes to specific steps to foster conservation or produce more energy, the public is deeply torn, the poll found. Respondents said they would support higher gasoline prices to reduce dependence on foreign oil but would oppose higher prices to combat global warming.

By large margins, respondents opposed an increase in pump prices of $2 a gallon, or even $1, to deal with environmental and energy-supply concerns. Three-quarters said they would be willing to pay more for electricity generated by renewable sources like solar or wind energy.

The negative view of new gasoline taxes may reflect the wide expectation that pump prices will continue to increase regardless of government action. More than 80 percent foresee higher gasoline prices in coming months, with many citing the Iraq war as a primary cause. Most respondents said they did not expect that any withdrawal of American troops from Iraq would cause prices to fall.

Nearly half of those polled also said they did not believe that their fellow Americans would be willing to change driving habits to save gasoline or reduce the production of heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide, which most scientists say contribute to the warming.

Respondents expressed little confidence in President Bush’s handling of environmental or energy issues, and a majority of those polled, including many Republicans, said Democrats were more likely than Republicans to protect the environment and foster energy independence.

One-third approved Mr. Bush’s handling of the environment and 27 percent approved his approach to energy questions. Democrats have criticized Mr. Bush’s policies on energy and the environment almost from the day he took office. Those policies have also cost him some Republican support, the poll showed.

“I think the Republicans have slashed the funds for cleanup of the environment, and if it comes down to whether or not it will cost big business, forget about the cleanup,” said Ron Gellerman, 65, a respondent from Maple Grove, Minn., who said he was a Republican.

“The Democrats are more willing to spend dollars on pure research,” Mr. Gellerman added in a follow-up interview after the poll was completed. “They’re open to alternative sources of energy, like wind. We could save more energy by increasing the efficiency of our electrical system and our automobiles. And the Democrats would be more willing to look at that sort of thing because they’re not so beholden to Big Oil.”

Many governors, members of Congress and presidential hopefuls from both parties have been more outspoken than Mr. Bush on the need to take immediate steps to combat global warming and reduce oil imports.

Private citizens tend to agree with them, the poll found, but they are also somewhat bewildered about the issues. Asked whether discussions of energy and the environment by political leaders were helpful or confusing, nearly three-quarters said the details were confusing.

Asked how they would respond to a presidential candidate who said all Americans would have to pay more for fuel or use less of it to protect the environment, one-third said they would be more likely to vote for that person and 15 percent said they would be less likely. Almost half said it would make no difference.

Americans broadly support using renewable energy sources like solar and wind power and say fueling vehicles with ethanol, which is now made largely from corn, is a good idea, the survey found.

They also are nearly evenly split on building nuclear power plants to reduce reliance on imported energy sources. When asked whether they would accept a nuclear plan in their community, they said no, 59 percent to 36 percent.

The nationwide telephone poll was conducted Friday to Tuesday with 1,052 adults. The margin-of-sampling error is plus or minus three percentage points.

Nearly four of five of those polled said they believed that the condition of the air, water, land and wildlife around the world was fair or poor. One percent rated global environmental quality as excellent, and 19 percent called it good. But 56 percent said the environmental condition in their communities was excellent or good.

Despite general optimism about their children’s future found in other surveys, respondents in this poll said by 57 percent to 11 percent that the condition of the environment would be worse for the next generation.

Fifty-two percent said that generally speaking they would support protecting the environment over stimulating the economy. Thirty-six percent chose the economy. But respondents also said, 62 percent to 21 percent, that developing new energy sources was more important than protecting the environment.

Yet they also expressed the belief that the government should encourage conservation over increasing development of additional energy sources. By a substantial margin, Americans continue to oppose drilling for oil and natural gas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, as they have for the last six years.

Although respondents split almost evenly on whether Washington can effectively address global warming, they almost unanimously (92 percent to 6 percent) supported requiring automobile manufacturers to make more fuel-efficient cars.

There is more opposition to using fossil fuels among Democrats than Republicans. Fifty-four percent of Democrats consider using coal to generate electricity to be a bad idea, compared with 39 percent of Republicans. Sixty-one percent of Republicans favor using natural gas to generate power, while Democrats divided, with 42 percent saying it is a good idea and 45 percent opposing it.

Americans almost universally support developing alternative energy sources like wind or solar power and biofuels, with 87 percent expressing approval. But fewer than 10 percent of those polled said they used any alternative energy source at home.

A big majority, 75 percent, said recent weather had been stranger than usual, an increase of almost 10 percentage points from 1997. Of those who said the weather had turned weird, 43 percent attributed it to global warming and 15 percent to pollution or other environmental damage. Four percent cited the coming end of the world or biblical prophecy, and 2 percent blamed space junk.

Ten years ago, 5 percent of respondents blamed global warming for changes in the weather.