Most Americans say global warming is serious and want the United States to address it, but their support for government regulations has fallen in recent years, says a poll out Friday conducted for USA TODAY.
Three of five say global warming is a very serious global problem, and two of three say it will hurt future generations either a lot or a great deal if nothing is done to reduce it, according to the poll of 801 U.S. adults done in conjunction with Stanford University and Resources for the Future, a non-partisan research group, which funded the research.
"It seems obvious" the Earth is warming, says survey participant Ken Anderson, 30, a database administrator in West Valley, Utah, citing consensus among climate scientists about the overall issue. Yet, he says, "it will be more of a concern for my children and my children's children."
Also notable: 71% say they see the effects of global warming, and 28% say it made the damage from last year's Superstorm Sandy "much worse," though 41% say it had no effect.
"Large majorities of Americans remain concerned about global warming," says co-author Jon Krosnick, Stanford professor of communication, political science and psychology. Three of four (73%) say global warming is "probably happening," but somewhat more (85%) took that view in 2006.
Other climate polls — each with differently worded questions — say slightly fewer Americans believe global warming is real, but they also find that attitudes have stabilized in the last two years. Last month, Pew Research Center said 67% see "solid evidence" the Earth is warming — about the same as in 2012. That's up from 57% in 2009 but still down from 77% in 2006.
"It's consistent with the patterns we've seen," says Frederick Mayer, a professor of public policy and the environment at Duke University, after reviewing USA TODAY's poll results. He says the findings are "modestly encouraging for modest policy action."
This year, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed a limit on the amount of greenhouse gases that new power plants can emit. The rules, slated to be finalized next year, mostly target coal-fired plants because of their relatively higher emissions.
The poll finds a slight majority of Americans, 55%, back a government limit on power plant emissions, and only 21% say it's a "good idea" to get electricity from coal.
At least 75% of those surveyed say the United States should take steps soon to try to prepare for global warming, even if other nations do less. Nearly half, or 44%, say such actions will help the U.S. economy; 30% say they will hurt it.
Americans are increasingly reticent about boosting efficiency requirements for cars, appliances and buildings. Those who say government should require more fuel-efficient cars dropped from 44% in 2006 to 27% now. Those who favor such an approach for appliances fell from 41% to 26% in the same time period.
Stephen Ansolabehere, government professor at Harvard University, says that shift may be due to a decline in the public's confidence in the U.S. government, noting the bumpy rollout of the Affordable Care Act.
Survey participant Theolyn Brock, 42, who's lived in Florida since 1974, says hurricanes and beach erosion in her state have definitely worsened in recent decades, and she attributes part of that to global warming. She'd like to see a U.S. shift toward solar and wind power similar to what Germany's doing. She recently returned from a vacation there: "You could see it everywhere — solar panel after solar panel."