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4.7.04

Opinions On Climate

Eight In Ten Support McCain-Lieberman Climate Change Legislation

Eighty-one percent of Americans polled said that they support the targets of the legislation, commonly known as the McCain-Lieberman legislation or the Climate Stewardship Act, which calls for large companies to reduce their emissions to year 2000 levels by 2010 and to 1990 levels by 2020. When told it has been estimated that this would increase costs to the average American household by about $15 a month, 67% still said they would support it. If a candidate would support the legislation, 52% said this would increase their likelihood of voting for him or her, while just 14% said that it would decrease the likelihood (no effect: 32%). These are some of the findings of a new PIPA-Knowledge Networks poll of 753 Americans nationwide conducted June 8-14 (margin of error plus or minus 3.6%).

... Watching the recent blockbuster film The Day After Tomorrow did not significantly affect attitudes.

Support for taking steps is high even though only 43% believe there is a consensus among the scientific community about the reality and danger of global warming. Fifty percent assume that scientists are divided on the question, and another 4% assume a scientific consensus that it is not a real problem.

Steven Kull, director of PIPA, comments: "It is interesting that two out of three 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."

-- via Quark Soup


On first glance, the fact that people are willing to support climate action despite a perception that there is a lack of scientific consensus seems strange. The most obvious explanation is that people are employing the precautionary principle. It's not unreasonable to think that $15 a month isn't all that much to spend "just in case." But the survey also found that 76% of people thought climate change was a real problem. Assuming that there aren't a lot of people who think it's a problem but aren't willing to fix it or who don't think it's a problem but like wasting money, support for McCain-Lieberman seems to be based in confidence about the status of global climate. This seems to show that people are unwilling to take a technocratic view, supporting action only when scientists give the green light. They're willing to make a judgement on scientific matters that are relevant to life and policy. We got lucky, since the public's has a true conclusion despite being misinformed about the issue. I wonder, though, if this willingness to hold an opinion is the outcome of conservatives' stress on the scientific uncertainties, rather than their desired outcome of throwing up their hands and saying "if the scientists haven't agreed yet, why should we bother doing anything?" The latter response requires the maintenance of a basically technocratic attitude.

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