71% of Americans Now Say Tackling Climate Change Should be a Priority


Photo: kjtitle84 via Flickr/CC BY-SA

The vast majority of Americans now believe addressing global warming should be a top priority for Congress and the Obama administration, a new Yale survey reveals. A pretty stunning 71% of Americans now think that tackling climate change should be high on the agenda -- a departure from the last few years, where it languished as a low priority. And that's not the only interesting finding from the poll: Equally fascinating is this -- 91% of Americans say that "developing sources of clean energy should be a very high (32%), high (35%), or medium (24%) priority for the president and Congress, including 97 percent of Democrats, 89 percent of Independents, and 85 percent of Republicans."

This effectively means that pretty much the entire nation thinks we should be pushing waaay harder to develop clean energy sources. As in, vast majorities of Democrats, Independents, and Republicans support more investment in clean energy. And yet policymakers respond to this overwhelming (and longstanding) demand by continuing to funnel far more federal handouts to oil companies than to the clean energy sector.

Furthermore, far more people want to tackle climate change head-on than you'd expect, especially given the staunch anti-climate stance that pervades one of the nation's two political parties. Maybe Mitt Romney's and John Huntsman's belief in climate change is smart politics after all. The landscape of American belief in climate change is actually far more nuanced than all of the air time given to climate skeptics would have you believe. Here's a look at some of the more nuanced findings from the poll, which is the latest update to Yale's ongoing Six Americas of Climate Change project:

  • Majorities of Americans want more action to address global warming from corporations (65%), citizens themselves (63%), the U.S. Congress (57%), President Obama (54%), as well as their own state and local officials.
  • Despite ongoing concerns about the economy, 67 percent of Americans say the U.S. should undertake a large (29%) or medium-scale effort (38%) to reduce global warming, even if it has large or moderate economic costs.
  • 82 percent of Americans (including 94% of Democrats, 74% of Independents, and 76% of Republicans) say that protecting the environment either improves economic growth and provides new jobs (56%), or has no effect (26%). Only 18 percent say environmental protection reduces economic growth and costs jobs.
  • Large majorities (including Democrats, Independents, and Republicans) say it is important for their own community to take steps to protect the following from global warming: public health (81%), the water supply (80%), agriculture (79%), wildlife (77%), and forests (76%).
  • 84 percent of Americans support funding more research into renewable energy sources, including 90 percent of Democrats, 81 percent of Independents, and 81 percent of Republicans.
  • 68 percent of Americans support requiring electric utilities to produce at least 20% of their electricity from renewable energy sources, even if it costs the average household an extra $100 a year, including 82 percent of Democrats, 64 percent of Independents, and 58 percent of Republicans.

The one dark spot is that 68% of Americans support more gas and oil drilling, but by and large the picture this survey paints is an overwhelmingly positive one: People understand that climate change is a threat -- likely due to the surge in extreme weather events so far this year -- and that it should be addressed with urgency. They get that it's good for the economy to protect the environment, and that it's worth taking steps (even if they impose minor costs) to transition to a clean energy economy.

Now, we just need a charismatic leader or two to channel this latent goodwill into clean energy action on the national stage. But where could we find such a leader?

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More on Climate Change and American Opinion
Do Climate Skeptics Change Their Minds?
Americans ' Support for Climate Action Growing Again, Poll Finds ...
In Dark Financial Times, Americans Still Willing to Fight Climate Change

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