Time for Action: After BP Disaster, Americans are Ready for Clean Energy

It turns out that attempts by conservatives to discredit climate
science may not have left a big dent on American public opinion after
all. According to polls released this week, the vast majority of the
public is still concerned about climate change, and, in the wake of the
BP spill, readier than ever to ambitiously develop renewable energy.

A survey by Yale University
shows that 61 percent of Americans believe global warming is real, a
four-point rise since the same question was polled in January 2010.
Fifty percent believe it is caused, at least in part, by human
activities, a three-point increase. A Stanford University survey
obtained even stronger responses--about three-quarters of those polled
said they believe climate change is real and humans are wholly or
partly to blame.

This is good news for anyone who was disheartened by a Pew survey
last fall that suggested public concern over global warming had
dropped--for instance, 65 percent believed it was a serious problem;
down from 73 percent in spring 2008. Stanford professor Jon Krosnick,
quoted in USA Today, says, "Several national surveys released
during the last eight months have been interpreted as showing that
fewer and fewer Americans believe that climate change is real,
human-caused, and threatening to people ... But our new survey shows just
the opposite."

To me, the news is also a reminder of the highly variable nature of
polls. Polls sometimes have significant margins of error. They are
useful snapshots of the American psyche at a given moment, but I often
wonder at the press when it claims to reach some startling conclusion
about what Americans must think based on their responses to a
rapid-fire and sometimes unwelcome phone call from a research
institution.

Whether public concern has gone up or down by a small margin seems
to me like a red herring. When half to three-quarters of Americans can
acknowledge that climate change is a problem, it's certainly no fringe
issue. And a majority of the public supports action: For instance, the
Stanford poll reveals that 84 percent of Americans favor tax breaks to
encourage companies to produce more power from solar, wind, and hydro.
As Obama considers whose ass to kick over the Gulf spill, I wonder how
much more of a mandate he needs to pursue a climate bill and an
ambitious energy policy.

Of course, the politics of the Senate are not, unfortunately, driven by majority public opinion. All the more reason why, as our executive editor, Sarah van Gelder, writes, we need people power to make Obama take action.

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This article was written for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas and practical actions. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.