Majority in U.S. Want Decisive Action on Emissions

Posted on 14 December 2009 by editor

By Matthew Berger

WASHINGTON (IPS/TerraViva) A new poll released by the global activist group Avaaz echoes the findings of several recent polls – a majority of U.S. respondents support taking action to fight climate change.

The poll, released Monday, found 61 percent want the U.S. to sign a treaty in Copenhagen that would see global greenhouse gas emissions start to decline by 2015.

“This poll shows that the majority of Americans want a real deal – an ambitious and binding global climate treaty that peaks global emissions by 2015,” said Ricken Patel, executive director of Avaaz.org.

A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll released a week ago similarly found 58 percent of U.S. respondents want their country to cut carbon dioxide emissions unilaterally.

However, many of these recent polls have found the U.S. public’s concern about climate change has cooled relative to past surveys. A Harris interactive poll released Dec. 2, for instance, found the number of U.S. respondents who believe greenhouse gas emissions will lead to global warming dropped from 71 to 51 percent between 2007 and 2009.

A solid majority still support climate change action, but a large reason for the decline that recent U.S. polls have found in the size of this majority may be the increasing political polarisation that has swept Washington since the 2008 presidential campaign, and particularly the shift further right by many Republicans.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted in early November found the percentage of Republicans that believe climate change is happening has decreased from 76 to 54 percent over the last three-and-a-half years, while the percentage of the general U.S. population that believes it is happening merely dipped from 80 to 72 percent.

The Pew Research Center for People & the Press likewise found, in October, that the number of Republicans who believe there is “solid evidence” has halved from 62 to 35 percent since 2007.

Legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions was not even a remote possibility with President George W. Bush in office – nor with the Republican-controlled Congress of much of the past two decades.

But when President Barack Obama entered the White House with substantial Democratic majorities in both houses, climate change action became a real possibility in the U.S.

While some rejoiced, a large number of businesses and interest groups seem to have felt the time was right to panic. Over 460 business and interest groups began lobbying Congress for the first time on climate change in the 12 weeks prior to the House passing its version of climate legislation in June, according to analysis of lobbying records by the Center for Public Integrity.

This number includes a variety of interests, but 200 of the 460 were manufacturers and their advocacy groups and another 130 were power companies and utilities.

The American Petroleum Institute-led coalition Energy Citizens, for example, was launched in August and, in October, unveiled a seven-figure ad campaign in states whose senators are thought to be swing votes on climate legislation.

U.S. citizens, however, are aware of the escalation. Avaaz’s poll says 64 percent of U.S. respondents feel oil and coal companies have too much influence on Congress and climate change policies. Party-wise, 74 percent of Democrats, 68 percent of independents and even 52 percent of Republicans feel this way.

“Americans know who the villains are in the fight against climate change,” said Patel.

Despite the intensity of campaigns and lobbying, a majority of the U.S. public still remain staunchly behind efforts to combat climate change.

A poll released last Thursday by WorldPublicOpinion.org, and commissioned by the World Bank, found a majority in the U.S. – and 13 of the other 14 countries surveyed – are willing to pay more for energy and other products as part of these efforts.

A Wall Street Journal/NBC poll released at the end of October likewise found more U.S. respondents in favour of the possibility of paying more in exchange for lower greenhouse gas emissions – 48 versus 43 percent.

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