Cooling off

Environment | As Americans trend more conservative, they have become more skeptical of the threat of global warming
by Alisa Harris
Posted 10/28/09, 06:02 pm

A new survey offers bad news for those who advocate taking action to fight climate change: Americans' belief in global warming seems to be slipping. The survey is part of a larger trend that finds Americans growing more conservative on a number of political issues.

The Pew Forum survey, published Oct. 22 and conducted between Sept. 30 and Oct. 4, reveals that belief in global warming has sharply declined over the last year. In April 2008, 71 percent of Americans saw "solid evidence" for global warming. Now only 57 percent of Americans do. They also were more skeptical about blaming humans for global warming. A year ago, 47 percent said that human activity causes rising global temperatures, but this year only 36 percent make that claim.

And while 44 percent saw global warming as a very serious problem in 2008, only 35 percent do so today. The decline is across the board and includes independents, whose belief in the solid evidence for global warming dropped 22 points.

Jeremy Symons, senior vice president at the National Wildlife Federation, a conservation organization that advocates cap-and-trade legislation, said, "I would keep things in perspective and start with the good news, which is that 65 percent of respondents still see global warming as a serious problem. So what you see is whatever the trend lines, global warming is still an issue that the public wants solved."

Dan Miller, publisher at the Heartland Institute, which argues against global warming, hailed the poll as a triumph of public wisdom over the political establishment. He guessed that the economy played a role in changing people's opinions on global warming, including the Treasury Department estimate of $100 to $200 billion per year to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. "It's just not worth it," Miller said. The poll, however, did find 50 percent favoring setting limits on carbon emissions.

Miller also guessed that the past few cold winters have made people more dubious of global warming claims. In 2008-09, China had its coldest winter in a century. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration surveyed average temperatures across the world and reported that the 2007-08 winter was the coldest since 2001.

But Symons noted that this poll departs from the results from other surveys earlier this summer-including polls published by another research branch of the Pew Forum. The Pew Environment Group found that 78 percent of Americans want the United States to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, while 72 percent favor the energy plan's core principles to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and use clean energy.

It's worth noting, though, that the Oct. 22 poll fits into a broader trend of Americans leaning right on a number of political issues. On Oct. 26, Gallup published a poll finding that conservatives outnumber moderates and liberals, with 40 percent of Americans calling their views conservative, 36 moderate, and only 20 percent liberal.

On individual issues, Americans are beginning to trend conservative. In a year, Gallup found a 7 percent rise in the number of Americans who think there's too much government regulation of businesses. Support for government promoting traditional values is the highest it's been in five years. Multiple polls find that an increasing number of Americans consider themselves pro-life. Gallup also found that more Americans now say global warming is exaggerated-41 percent, the highest since Gallup started keeping track in 1997.

Alisa Harris

Alisa is a WORLD Journalism Institute graduate and former WORLD reporter.

Read more from this writer