A big new poll from the Program on International Policy Attitudes shows widespread public belief in the phenomenon of global warming and broad support for action to fight it, even if that action hurts the economy (via Mooney on Scienceg8.)

I’ll put some excerpts from the poll summary below the fold, but first a few caveats.

  • Heed the wise words of Roger Pielke Jr., who points out that majorities have believed in global warming for years:

    …the battle over public opinion about the existence of global warming has been won. Efforts made trying to convince the public that global warming is “real” are pretty much wasted on the convinced. The public overwhelmingly believes global warming to be real and consequential.

  • Politically informed people tend to project their habits on others. The fact the the public says it believes in global warming, or that it supports a cap-and-trade system, doesn’t mean that people have individually sat down, surveyed the science, assessed the policy possibilities, and come to considered conclusions. People more or less parrot conventional wisdom.
  • Because they are parroting conventional wisdom, it doesn’t matter much to them, and they don’t follow it very closely. Polls are always finding widespread support for progressive policies, but conservatives keep winning elections because elections aren’t fought over policies.
  • One hesitates to sound cynical, but nevertheless: Never underestimate the ignorance of the American public. As you will read below the fold, almost half the respondents believe that Bush supports Kyoto. People just by and large know very little about what politicians support, and even less about what politicians are actually doing. Talk about global warming floats about the media and culture, and Average Joe and Jane assume that somebody somewhere is doing something about it.

What greens should get from this poll is not a thrill of hope that the tipping point has finally arrived. It was always a pipe dream that some magical study would come along to finally-once-and-for-all prove that global warming exists, and voi la, the world would change.

The public is already convinced, and has been for some time. What we need now are local activism, fresh stories to tell, innovative policies, dramatic representations, success stories, unflagging political engagement … all that stuff. It’s still going to be a long, hard slog to get where we need to go. But if nothing else, this poll shows that the raw materials are there to work with.

Now, some excerpts:

Virtually all respondents — 94% — said the US should limit its greenhouse gases at least as much as the other developed countries do on average. Nearly half — 44% — think the US should do more than average.

Consistent with this support for international cooperation on climate change, a large majority — 73% — said the US should, “participate in the Kyoto agreement to reduce global warming.” Curiously, 43% still assume, incorrectly, that President Bush favors US participation in the Kyoto Treaty and another 14% are not sure. Only 43% are aware that he opposes US participation.

The perception of a scientific consensus about the reality of global warming has grown sharply over the last year. The percentage saying that “there is a consensus among the great majority of scientists that global warming exists and could do significant damage” has risen from 43% in June 2004 to 52% today. The percentage saying that “scientists are divided on the existence of global warming and its impact” has dropped from 50% to 39%. This is part of a long-range trend: in 1994 only 28% perceived a scientific consensus while 58% assumed that scientists were divided.

Perceptions of a scientific consensus on climate change continue to be partisan. Sixty-two percent of Democrats perceived a consensus, as compared to just 41% of Republicans.

But over the last year there have been sharp movements in both parties, especially Republicans. Among Republicans, the perception of a scientific consensus has risen 11 points (30% to 41%) and the perception of scientists as divided has dropped a remarkable 17 points (63% to 46%). Among Democrats, perceptions of a scientific consensus have risen 7 points (55% to 62%) while perceptions of a division have dropped 6 points (39% to 33%).

A very large majority of Americans express support for legislation to reduce greenhouse gases. Respondents were told about the targets in one of the key drafts of the McCain-Lieberman legislation (Climate Stewardship Act), which would require large companies to reduce their emissions to 2000 levels by 2010 and to 1990 levels by 2020. An overwhelming 83% said they favored the legislation, with just 13% opposed.

They were then asked if they would favor the bill “if in fact it appears that it would likely cost $15 a month for an average household.” Two out of three (68%) said they would, while 28% said they would not. Democrats were just slightly more willing to accept the $15 cost (72%) than Republicans (67%).

Respondents were asked to consider a variety of possible strategies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
· 81% supported “tax incentives to utility companies to encourage them to sell environmentally clean energy, such as solar and wind power, to consumers.”
· 81% supported “cash incentives like tax credits and rebates to individual households that upgrade to more energy efficient appliances like refrigerators and air conditioners.”
· 70% favored “requiring that by 2010, half of all new cars produced are hybrid-electric or some other type that is very fuel efficient.”
· 77% favored, “continuing the tax credit for purchasing a hybrid-electric car.”

A majority expresses optimism that steps taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will actually benefit the US economy. Asked to choose between two statements, 71% chose the position that “the US economy will become more competitive because these efforts will result in more efficient energy use, saving money in the long run,” while only 23% chose the position that “efforts in the United States to reduce the release of greenhouse gases will cost too much money and hurt the US economy.”