WASHINGTON - More than 80 percent of the U.S. public supports pending legislation to cut the emission of greenhouse gases, while two thirds said they are willing to pay the U.S.$15 a month - or nearly $200 a year - that experts believe the legislation, the Climate Stewardship Act (CSA), will cost the average household, according to a nationwide poll released Friday.
Public support is also strong for using tax incentives to encourage utility companies to use cleaner energy technologies and car-buyers to purchase more energy-efficient cars, according to the survey, which was conducted by the University of Maryland's Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA).
Moreover, slightly more than half of respondents (52 percent) said a candidate's support for the cutting emissions would incline them more to vote for him in November, while only 14 percent said that such support would make them less inclined to vote for him. Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry has endorsed the bill, officially known as the Climate Stewardship Act (CSA), while President George W. Bush opposes it.
Nearly two-thirds of respondents (64 percent) said they would want their member of Congress to support the Kyoto Protocol, which is also supported by Kerry but opposed by Bush.
The poll, which coincided with the running of the Hollywood special-effects blockbuster on global warming, 'The Day After Tomorrow,' found that the movie did not appreciably affect viewer attitudes toward global warming or the urgency with which the problem should be addressed.
But it did find that the goals of the CSA, which is better known as the McCain-Lieberman bill after its two main co-sponsors, Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain and Connecticut Democratic Sen. Joseph Lieberman, have broad support among the 753 randomly chosen respondents who answered detailed questions between June 8-14. Funding for the survey was provided by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Ford Foundation, and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
The Act, which was endorsed by the 27 members of the non-governmental Sustainable Energy Coalition (SEG) earlier this month, aims to bring U.S. levels of greenhouse gas emissions to year 2000 levels by 2010 and down again to 1990 levels by 2020. These goals fall somewhat short of those established under the Kyoto Protocol, which calls for bringing emissions down to 1990 levels by no later than 2012.
The United States, which currently accounts for about 25 percent of total global emissions, signed the Protocol under the Clinton administration, but Bush withdrew from the treaty in the spring of 2001.
The CSA's goals would be achieved by capping the emissions of the most intensive-polluting sectors of the economy, including industries, utilities, and transportation, that together account for 80 percent of all U.S. greenhouse emissions.
In addition to imposing caps, the Act also establishes a market-based trading program that would allow companies affected by the caps to get up to 15 percent of their reductions from other sectors, including international projects, or projects that would, by planting new forests, for example, would enhance the Earth's ability to absorb carbon that would otherwise be emitted into the atmosphere.
The bill would also enable companies to trade "credits" on an open market so those who exceed the maximum emissions level can offset their pollution by purchasing credits from those who are doing better than the standard.
At first blush, according to the survey, 62 percent of respondents said they opposed the "cap-and-trade" scheme that is CSA's centerpiece. But, after the pollsters explained how the program worked, a modest majority said they were persuaded that it was a good idea.
Three out of four respondents, on the other hand, said they supported achieving the reductions set forth by the CSA through providing "tax incentives to utility companies to encourage them to sell environmentally clean energy, such as solar and wind power, to consumers," while four of five respondents said they supported giving "cash incentives like tax credits and rebates to individual households that upgrade to more energy-efficient appliances like refrigerators and air conditioners."
Very large majorities also supported efforts to reduce automobile emissions, including 82 percent who said they favored "requiring car manufacturers to meet higher fuel efficiency standards," although that support fell off to 63 percent when asked if they would still support it "that meant it would cost more to own or lease a car."
More than three out of four (78 percent) said they favored continuing the tax credit for buying a hybrid-electric car, which is significantly more fuel-efficient than conventional makes, while 71 percent said they favored establishing a deadline of 2010 by which time half of all new cars produced should be hybrid-electric or of some other kind that is similarly fuel-efficient.
More than four out of five (83 percent), on the other hand, opposed "continuing to give large sports utility vehicles (SUVs) and Hummers a bigger tax credit than for ordinary cars used for business purposes, a provision approved by Congress with the administration's support early in Bush's tenure.
The survey found little consensus on the urgency of dealing with global warming. While three of every four respondents (76 percent) agreed that the problem was real and requires action, the majority was divided on costs and benefits.
Given three options on the issue, only 23 percent, however, chose the one most closely identified with that of the Bush administration - "Until we are sure that global warming is really a problem, we should not take any steps that would have economic costs." Bush, who, in withdrawing from the Kyoto Protocol, declared that he would "not do anything that would harm our economy," has instead funded a large research program to determine the causes and pace of warming.
The rest of the respondents were divided between the 45 percent who agreed that warming's "effects will be gradual, so we can deal with the problem gradually by taking steps that are low in cost," and 31 percent who said that the problem was "serious and pressing" and "we should begin taking steps now even if this involves significant costs."
Much like the controversy over the presence of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in pre-war Iraq and Iraqi ties to al Qaeda, the public is confused about how the scientific community views the causes, reality and danger of global warming. A series of national and international studies has demonstrated the existence of an ever-stronger consensus that emissions are contributing to warming and that the problem poses serious environmental and health risks.
The survey found that fifty percent of respondents believe that the scientists are divided on these questions, while another four percent assume that there is a consensus that warming is not a real problem.
"It is interesting that two out of three (respondents) are willing to accept costs of $15 a month to address the problem of climate change, even though there is not a majority perception that the scientific community has come to consensus that climate change is a real problem."
"If there was a broader perception of scientific consensus, support for action could be even higher," he said.
There is also confusion about how Congress and the Bush administration feel about climate change. The survey found that 58 percent believed their member of Congress would favor the Kyoto Protocol and that 46 percent believe that a majority in Congress would vote for it. Similarly, only 48 percent appear to be aware that Bush opposes it.
Both Bush and many lawmakers have complained that Kyoto, which so far is limited to the world's industrialized countries that historically have emitted by far the most greenhouse gases, does not require developing countries to reduce their emissions. In the poll, 72 percent said poor countries should at least be required to limit their emissions, but nearly two of every three respondents said poor countries should not be required to reduce them.
Among the groups supporting the CSA are the National Environmental Trust, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.
© Copyright 2004 IPS - Inter Press Service