Sea Change in Public Attitudes Toward Global Warming Emerge; Climate Change Seen as Big a Threat as Terrorism
A new Yale research survey reveals a significant shift in public attitudes toward the environment and global warming. Fully 83 percent of Americans now say global warming is a “serious” problem, up from 70 percent in 2004. More Americans than ever say they have serious concerns about environmental threats, such as toxic soil and water (92 percent, up from 85 percent in 2004), deforestation (89 percent, up from 78 percent), air pollution (93 percent, up from 87 percent) and the extinction of wildlife (83 percent, up from 72 percent in 2005).
Most dramatically, the survey of 1,000 adults nationwide shows that 63 percent of Americans agree that the United States “is in as much danger from environmental hazards, such as air pollution and global warming, as it is from terrorists.” It reveals growing concern about dependence on Middle Eastern oil, with 96 percent of the public saying this is a serious problem. As a result, the public overwhelmingly supports increasing the use of alternative energy, including solar and wind power, as well as investing more in energy efficiency.
The survey indicates that while 70 percent of Americans believe that President Bush doesn’t do enough for the environment and should do more, many citizens are ready to act on their own. Seventy-five percent recognize that their own behavior can help to reduce global warming, and 81 percent believe it is their responsibility to do so.
The results further suggest that many Americans want greener products and are ready to spend money to try new technologies that will help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Seventy percent of the public indicates a willingness to buy solar panels, and 67 percent would consider buying a hybrid car. These numbers suggest that the growing number of companies that see market opportunities in providing climate-change solutions—alternative energy, “cleantech” products and energy efficiency—may be on the right track.
Dan Esty, director of the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy, which commissioned the survey, says the United States is in the midst of a “revolution,” in which the business community is embracing the profit potential of a burgeoning green consumer movement. And frustrated with the limits of government action, the public increasingly wants business to solve environmental problems.
“There’s been a dramatic shift in the business community’s attitude toward the environment,” notes Esty. “Rather than seeing environmental issues as a set of costs to bear, regulation to follow and risks to manage, companies have begun to focus on the ‘upside,’ recognizing that society’s desire for action on climate change, in particular, will create a huge demand for reducing carbon-content products.
“It’s clear that the public is not waiting for the government to take the lead. Americans no longer think it’s entirely the domain of government to solve environmental problems. They expect companies to step up and address climate change and other concerns.”
The survey also suggests that the public’s reasons for wanting investments in alternative energy and action on climate change vary widely. For some, concern stems from the rising cost of gasoline (Forty-nine percent of the public sees this as a very serious issue.). Others want the nation to be free of imported oil (93 percent). Forty-three percent believe that preventing global warming is a religious duty.
“The coalition supporting action on climate change has broadened considerably,” said Gus Speth, dean of Yale’s environment school. “With the public ready for carbon controls and business stepping up to the climate change challenge, it is disappointing that our political leadership is lagging so badly on this issue.”
The Yale Environmental Poll has been made possible with the generous support of the Betsy and Jesse Fink Foundation and United Technologies Corporation.
The survey was conducted on behalf of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies by Global Strategy Group from February 5 to 11, 2007. The survey was conducted using professional phone interviewers. The nationwide sample was drawn from a random digit dial (RDD) process. Respondents were screened on the basis of age, i.e., to be over the age of 18. The survey has an overall margin of error of ±3.1% at the 95% confidence level. The survey questions and full results can be found at the website of the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy: www.yale.edu/envirocenter.