Global Issues >> Global Warming

Global Warming

The Reality and Urgency of Global Warming

A very strong majority of the US public embraces the idea that global warming is a real and serious problem even though only a slight majority perceives that there is a consensus in the scientific community on this question. The majority endorsing action divides on whether the problem is pressing and should include steps with significant costs or whether the problem can be dealt with more gradually through low-cost steps. However, when asked to assume that there is a scientific consensus on the reality of global warming, support for taking high cost steps increases to a majority. A majority rejects the argument that taking action is too economically onerous and is optimistic that in the long run reducing greenhouse gas emissions will actually benefit the economy by increasing efficiency. In a multilateral context support for taking action becomes overwhelming with very large majorities wanting to do as much as other developed countries to reduce emissions. Awareness of global warming is quite high.

Kyoto Treaty

A strong majority of Americans favors the US abiding by and ratifying the Kyoto Treaty even when presented with the key arguments for and against the treaty. Only a minority is aware that President Bush opposes participation in the Kyoto Treaty. When respondents are told that that President Bush has decided to not abide by the Treaty approximately half oppose the decision while a fairly small minority supports it. A strong majority opposes his decision to not pursue reductions of carbon dioxide emissions and thinks he should propose develop some plan for reducing emissions. When the Kyoto Treaty was being negotiated in 1998 a strong majority supported the level of emissions cuts proposed, even when informed that the US had originally sought less-deep cuts, and a plurality leaned toward deeper cuts.

Legislation Requiring Reductions

A very large majority favors legislation requiring reductions in greenhouse gasses. A very large majority of Americans (8 in 10) say they support the targets of the McCain-Lieberman legislation (Climate Stewardship Act) that call for large companies to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases to 2000 levels by 2010 and to 1990 levels by 2020. Two-thirds say they favor the legislation even if there are significant increases in the cost of energy. A modest majority says that if a candidate favors legislation requiring reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, this will increase the likelihood they will vote for that candidate; only a very small minority says that it would decrease the likelihood. Those in favor of taking steps are more likely to have their vote influenced by a candidate's position than those opposed.

Readiness to Accept Increases in Energy Costs

Americans show a readiness to accept a moderate increase in their energy costs to deal with the problem of global warming and to comply with the Kyoto Treaty. At the same time Americans show an optimism that reducing greenhouse gas emissions can be achieved without a harmful economic impact and that technological innovations will be effective.

Strategies for Reducing Emissions

Americans support a variety of methods for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Very large majorities support strategies that provide tax incentives to utility companies that sell environmentally clean energy and to individuals who purchase energy-efficient appliances. Very large majorities support major efforts to reduce automobile emissions by requiring higher fuel efficiency standards in automobiles (even if this means higher costs), requiring half of all new automobiles to be hybrid-electric or similarly high-mileage by 2010, renewing the tax incentives for hybrids, and eliminating the tax incentives for large SUVs and Hummers. The strategy for reducing emissions through a system in which companies trade emissions allowances is not popular with the public, though arguments that it would reduce costs are convincing to a modest majority.

Trading Emission Rights

The level of additional energy costs most Americans find acceptable is sufficient to fulfill the requirements of the Kyoto Treaty (according to US government estimates), but only if the US can get credit for purchasing emission rights from other countries. When Americans are presented the idea of such an emissions trading regime, initially the majority responds negatively. However, when Americans are presented arguments on both sides of the issue as well as the actual cost tradeoffs, a strong majority favors such a regime.

Participation of Developing Countries in Limiting Emissions

A majority believes that the developing countries should be expected to limit their greenhouse gas emissions, but that these countries should not have to reduce emissions. If the developing countries do not accept such limits, a majority nonetheless favors proceeding with the Kyoto Treaty or working to reduce emissions.

Foreign Aid for Limiting Greenhouse Gas Emissions

If the developing countries are willing to limit their greenhouse gas emissions, an overwhelming majority would support providing technology and training to help them.

Perceptions of Others' Support for Action

By a wide margin, most Americans believe they are more supportive of taking steps to reduce global warming than the average American. Thus it appears the public underestimates the public's support for taking such steps.