(WASHINGTON) — President Joe Biden heads to a vital U.N. climate summit at a time when a majority of Americans regard the deteriorating climate as a problem of high importance to them, an increase from just a few years ago.
A new poll by The Associated Press -NORC Center for Public Affairs Research (University of Chicago Energy Policy Institute) found that 62% of Americans think global warming is on the rise.
As Biden struggles to pass significant climate legislation at home ahead of next week’s U.N. climate summit, the new AP-NORC/EPIC poll also shows that 55% of Americans want Congress to pass a bill to ensure that more of the nation’s electricity comes from clean energy and less from climate-damaging coal and natural gas.
A similar measure to generate electricity using cleaner energy is supported by only 16% Americans. Similar legislation was initially one of Biden’s most crucial pieces of climate legislation. But Biden’s proposal to reward utilities with clean energy sources and penalize those without ran into objections from a coal-state senator, Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia, leaving fellow Democrats scrambling to come up with other ways to slash pollution from burning fossil fuels.
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For some of the Americans watching, it’s an exasperating delay in dealing with an urgent problem.
“If you follow science, the signs are here,” said Nancy Reilly, a Democrat in Missouri who’s retired after 40 years as a retail manager, and worries for her children as the climate deteriorates. “It’s already here. What was the first thing that they started to water down in order for this bill to pass? Climate change.”
“It’s just maddening,” Reilly said. “I understand why, I do — I get the politics of it. I’m sick of the politics of it.”
Biden’s administration wanted to assist in negotiating major global emissions cuts to lower the temperature rise. This was after President Donald Trump pulled USA out of Paris climate agreement. But it’s unclear whether Biden will be able to get any significant climate legislation through Congress before the U.N. summit starts Sunday.
In all, 59% of Americans said the Earth’s warming is very or extremely important to them as an issue, up from 49% in 2018. Fifty-four percent of Americans cited scientists’ voices as having a large amount of influence on their views about climate change, and nearly as many, 51%, said their views were influenced by recent extreme weather events like hurricanes, deadly heat spells, wildfires and other natural disasters around the world.
In the 60-year history of the planet, pollution from power plants, gasoline, diesel, and other engines has caused a change in the climate. It also warmed the Earth by about 1.7 degrees Fahrenheit. Extreme weather became more extreme.
In east Tennessee’s Smoky Mountains, leaf-peeper websites this year are advising fall foliage tourists that leaves are taking days longer than normal to turn from green to fiery orange and red. It’s not evidence of climate change as a one-off instance, but typical of the changes Americans are seeing as the Earth heats up.
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“Normally you get the four seasons, fall, spring, and winter, and it goes in that way. But lately, it’s not been that,” said Jeremy Wilson, a 42-year-old who votes independent and works the grounds at a scenic chairlift park that runs people up to the top of the Smoky Mountains. “It’s been either way hotter, or way colder.”
According to the poll, 75% believe climate change is occurring, while 10% think it isn’t. An additional 15% remain unsure.
Among those who say it is happening, 54% say that it’s caused mostly or entirely by human activities compared to just 14% who think — incorrectly, scientists say — that it’s caused mainly by natural changes in the environment. Another 32% of Americans believe it’s a mix of human and natural factors.
Although Democrats are less likely to admit that climate change has occurred than Republicans, majorities in both political parties believe it. This is 89% for Democrats, and 57% for Republicans.
The poll also gauged Americans’ willingness to pay for the cost of cutting climate-wrecking pollution as well as mitigating its consequences.
Fivety-two percent of respondents said they would be supportive of a $1/month carbon fee on their electricity bill in order to reduce climate change. But, as the price rises, so does support.
“I would say, like 5, 10 dollars, as long as it’s really being used for what it should be,” said Krystal Chivington, a 46-year-old Republican in Delaware who credits her 17-year-old daughter for reviving her own passion for fighting climate change and pollution.
It’s not ordinary consumers who should bear the brunt of paying to stave off the worst scenarios of climate change, said Mark Sembach, a 59-year-old Montana Democrat who works in environmental remediation.
“I think it needs to fall a great deal on responsible corporations that’s — and unfortunately … most corporations aren’t responsible,” Sembach said. “And I think there needs to be a lot of pushback as to who ultimately pays for that.”
The AP-NORC poll of 5,468 adults was conducted Sept. 8-24 using a combined sample of interviews from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population, and interviews from opt-in online panels. All respondents have a margin of error plus/minus 1.7 percentage points. AmeriSpeak panels are randomly recruited using address-based sampling techniques. Respondents were then interviewed later online or over the phone.