Fuel Costs Boost Conservation Efforts; 7 in 10 Reducing 'Carbon Footprint'

High energy prices are double-teaming with environmental concerns to prompt broad conservation efforts, with seven in 10 Americans saying they're trying to reduce their "carbon footprint," chiefly by driving less, using less electricity and recycling.

More controversial are policy responses to the nation's energy problems: Majorities in this ABC News/Planet Green/Stanford University poll support oil drilling in protected coastal and wilderness areas.

Most support higher taxes on oil company profits, stricter fuel efficiency rules for cars and controls on trading by investors that may affect gas prices. And 44 percent favor building nuclear plants -- while not a majority, the most in 28 years.

Click here for a PDF with charts and full questionnaire.

Overall, even with broad conservation efforts underway, 64 percent now rate "finding new energy sources" as more important than improving conservation -- up 9 points since 2001.

Previous polls have shown broadest support for alternative energy such as wind, solar and hydro power; today's support for oil drilling, and lessened objection to nuclear power, indicate the level of concern raised by the current energy situation.

Global Warming

Another element is global warming; with concern still running high -- albeit slightly down from a year ago -- most Americans support a so-called cap-and-trade system intended to limit greenhouse gas emissions. And two-thirds say the U.S. government should act on global warming even if other countries do less.

Nearly three-quarters believe global warming can be reduced only if individuals make major changes in their lifestyles.

Fewer, though, 44 percent, think addressing the issue also will cause them financial hardship, and fewer still foresee "serious" hardship.

Many do see reason to act: Eight in 10 believe both that global warming is happening and that it poses a threat to future generations, and about six in 10 think it's caused mainly by things people or businesses do.

Overall, 56 percent of Americans give a negative rating to "the condition of the natural environment in the world today." And environmentalism remains a political plus: People by 42 percent to 6 percent say they'd be more likely, rather than less likely, to support a candidate who's a strong environmentalist, similar to the gap on this question in a 1999 poll.

At the same time, well under half of Americans, 41 percent, describe themselves personally as environmentalists – fewer than in any of six Gallup polls to ask the question from 1989 through 2000, and far below its peak, 78 percent in 1991. Thirty percent of Republicans call themselves environmentalists; it's 50 percent among Democrats.

Ready to Act?

As noted, this poll finds broad conservation efforts under way: Seventy-one percent of Americans say they're trying to reduce their use of energy or goods whose production created greenhouse gases – that is, to shrink their carbon footprint.

Among those who are taking steps, 59 percent say they're using less gasoline -- driving less, using smaller, more fuel-efficient cars, carpooling, taking mass transit and the like. That's a dramatic shift but not a surprising one, given $4 gasoline.

But it's not all: About as many, 60 percent, also say they're cutting their consumption of power (and water), and 33 percent are recycling.

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