In a new poll by the Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation, 80% of respondents agreed that human activity is a leading cause of climate change. That’s huge. But only half believe urgent action is needed and only 40% say it amounts to a crisis. The full polling results and an explanation of the methodology used are available here.
The Post acknowledges its poll results show a higher percentage of people saying human activity is impacting the climate than other recent polls. For instance, a poll by Yale University and George Mason University last spring found 69% saying “global warming is happening,” with 55% saying in a second question that it is caused mostly by “human activities” rather than “natural changes in the environment.”
Part of the reason for the divergence in answers may be that the Post/Kaiser poll asked a straightforward question that called for a yes or no answer — ““Human activity is or is not causing changes to the world’s climate, including an increase in the average temperature.”
The Difference Between Talk & Action
While the Post/Kaiser poll suggests a growing number of Americans recognize climate change as an issue — two thirds of respondents faulted alleged president Trump for his constant roll backs of environmental protections — few of them think they themselves will need to take significant action as a result or that they should pay more than token amounts to address the issue.
The general attitude seems to be, “Yeah, it’s something that concerns me but not enough for me to make any changes in my lifestyle.” For instance, most oppose rolling back vehicle emission standards but object strongly to any increase in the gasoline tax. Others say they would be willing to pay up to $2.00 a month extra on their utility bills to fight global warming. Gee, now that’s wonderful news, huh? Go, America!
70% say they believe some as yet unknown technological breakthroughs will somehow offset the worst effects of global warming — such as a 20-foot rise in sea levels. While it is one thing to be optimistic, optimism can act as an antidote to reality. The truth is that the only way to address climate change effectively is to stop burning fossil fuels. But since the entire global economy is based on utilizing the energy created by the combustion of hydrocarbons, doing so is going to lead to wrenching social and economic changes.
One indication of how intractable a problem addressing climate change will be is that the only candidate for US president to build his entire campaign around confronting climate change in a meaningful way — Washington governor Jay Inslee — failed to attract a significant following among the electorate and is now out of the race.
Make Polluters Pay!
Americans are more than happy to see other people pay to clean up the mess, however. According to the Post/Kaiser poll:
● Nearly 7 in 10 say money for climate action should come from increasing taxes on wealthy households. That proposal is backed by 83% of Democrats, 69% of independents, and 44% of Republicans.
● 6 in 10 favor raising taxes on companies that burn fossil fuels, including 74% of Democrats, 64% of independents, and 39% of Republicans. (Respondents were told that companies might pass along those taxes in the form of higher prices.)
What people seem to miss is that many corporations pay no income taxes at all! Zero times infinity is still equals zero. The upshot is that nobody wants to do the heavy lifting. We are basically content to go along as we always have, doing what we have always done, and writing angry letters to the editor when our crops fail or our vacation homes slides into the sea.
The fact that more Americans recognize that climate change is a serious issue is good news. But the fact that few are willing to alter their lives one iota to do anything about it is hardly cause for celebration.
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