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Even as Major Politicians Continue to Drag Feet, Poll Shows Majority in US Want Bold Climate Action and End of Fossil Fuels

"There may be a divide on Capitol Hill but the large majority of us are worried about climate change and want to see leaders deal with it."

A coalition of climate, Indigenous and racial justice groups gathered at Columbus Circle to kick off Climate Week on September 20 with the Climate Justice Through Racial Justice march. (Photo: Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images)

New polling suggests a large majority of Americans are likely to be dissatisfied with the subject matter included in the first presidential debate next week, in which—according to a list of topics released Tuesday—President Donald Trump and Democratic candidate Joe Biden will be asked no questions about the climate.

A survey released Wednesday by The Guardian, Vice Media Group, Covering Climate Now, the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication found that nearly three-quarters of U.S. respondents believe debate moderators should ask candidates about the climate—matching voters' level of concern about the planetary crisis. 

A debate focusing on the crisis could allow voters to hear about candidates' views on shifting away from fossil fuel-generated energy and towards renewable sources like wind and solar power. Three-quarters of respondents to the survey said they want all electricity in the U.S. to come from renewable sources in the next 15 years, and two-thirds said they would be more likely to back a candidate who supports a full shift toward clean energy. 

Biden has said that as president he would put the U.S. on the path to during fossil fuel emissions to net zero by 2050, while Trump has saddled the solar and wind industries with economic burdens, demanding $50 million in retroactive fees earlier this year as his administration lavished oil and gas giants with bailouts amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

While Biden's climate proposals are more in line with the demands of American voters, the former vice president has also suggesting that decisive climate action is controversial among the electorate. Last month he told voters that he is "not banning fracking, no matter how many times Donald Trump lies about me." The Democratic Party also left out of its platform this year a pledge to end fossil fuel subsidies.  

These moves by Democratic leaders put the party at odds with most voters, the new polling shows, as seven in 10 Americans favor government action to combat the climate crisis. More than eight in 10 Democratic voters support the Green New Deal, the far-reaching green jobs and infrastructure program which would aim to shift the U.S. to renewable energy sources by 2030. 

A majority of Republican respondents to the survey also reported that they believe the climate crisis is a "very serious" or "somewhat serious" problem, and 41% supported the Green New Deal, despite claims by GOP leaders that a major investment in renewable energy would be too expensive.

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"There may be a divide on Capitol Hill but the large majority of us are worried about climate change and want to see leaders deal with it," Ed Maibach, director of George Mason University's Center for Climate Change Communication, told The Guardian. 

Claims about swing state voters who will reject a Democratic candidate who vows to take meaningful climate action, including a fracking ban and a shift away from oil and gas, is "just another narrative to manufacture consent," tweeted climate scientist Peter Kalmus earlier this month, pointing to a CBS/YouGov poll that showed a majority of Pennsylvania voters back a ban on fracking.

Claims by politicians that climate action would bankrupt the U.S. are part of "an argument that doesn't work," Jon Krosnick, a Stanford social psychologist professor who authored a separate study out Wednesday, told Time. "The argument has never convinced even a majority of Republicans."

Wednesday's survey comes as the West Coast continues to face dozens of major wildfires, with at least 1,000 homes in California currently threatened and thousands of homes in Oregon and Washington destroyed in recent weeks. As Common Dreams reported Tuesday, Arctic sea ice shrank this week to its second-lowest level since records began more than four decades ago. The poll also comes two years after a landmark report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that the global community has a decade to significantly alter course by keeping fossil fuels in the ground in order to avoid the worst effects of the climate crisis.   

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