More people believe in climate change but are divided about cause

Posted: Nov 13, 2012

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Hurricane Sandy

More than two-thirds of U.S. voters say that climate change is a serious problem but are less certain about its causes than they were a few months ago, according to a new poll released today by Rasmussen Reports.

The survey of 1,000 likely voters was conducted Monday, the day before voters went to the polls to re-elect President Obama. Its margin of error was plus or minus 3 percentage points.

An all-time high of 68 percent of respondents said global warming is at least a somewhat serious problem, including 38 percent who said it is "very serious."

But when asked if warming was caused "primarily by human activity" rather than by "long-term planetary trends," 41 percent said human emissions were causing it, down from 48 percent in a similar poll released in July. Thirty-eight percent of November's respondents said the warming had natural causes, while 44 percent of July's respondents said the same thing. Seven and 8 percent chose "other" causes, respectively.

The July survey showed the highest level of belief in man-made climate change since September 2009, three months after the House passed its carbon cap-and-trade bill along sharply partisan lines.

The Rasmussen poll showed much more skepticism about man-made climate change than a poll released last month by Yale and George Mason universities, which found that a solid majority of Americans -- 54 percent -- believe global warming is caused mostly by human activities (ClimateWire, Oct. 19).

Today's survey comes out as climate is enjoying a slight political renaissance following Superstorm Sandy, the "Frankenstorm" that hit the Eastern Seaboard the week before the election.

Obama, who had remained mostly mum about climate throughout his campaign for re-election, mentioned the issue in his acceptance speech in Chicago early Wednesday.

"We want our children to live in an America that isn't burdened by debt, that isn't weakened by inequality, that isn't threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet," he said.

The Obama administration is expected to move forward with new U.S. EPA rules for greenhouse gas emissions, starting with a rule for new power plants that may be finalized before the end of the year. But no legislation on the issue appears to be in the offing.

Bill Ruckelshaus, who was EPA's first administrator under President Nixon, said in a recent interview that the public would bring about action on climate change, not politicians. Nixon was pushed to act on clean air and clean water not because they were his top priorities, Ruckelshaus said, but because the public would not allow him to ignore the issues.

"And if the public begins to think we're not protecting their health or protecting the environment strongly enough, they could demand action," he said. "That's what will result in action, I think."

He said he supported current Administrator Lisa Jackson's plans to regulate greenhouse gases from major-emitting sectors under existing law but hoped Congress would pass legislation to price carbon, as well.

"If we're going to get serious about reducing carbon, we're going to have to make it cost more," he said.

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