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.
Recent international reports have said 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.
The presidential candidates have recognized the desire for swifter action on energy and the environment than the Bush administration has pursued and have offered plans with varying degrees of specificity.
Among the leading Democrats, John Edwards and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York have offered fairly detailed plans for national and international programs to reduce heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide and encouraging alternative energy sources.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has been critical of the administration’s responses and has advocated building nuclear plants to provide electricity.
The issue arises frequently in public forums, and it is likely that along with the Iraq war and health care, it will be among the chief topics in the 2008 campaign.
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 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, which most scientists say contribute to the warming.