Poll: Public Concern on Warming Gains Intensity

The intensity of public concern about global warming has spiked sharply over the last decade, along with a change in personal experience: Half of Americans say weather patterns have grown more unstable and temperatures have risen where they live, and 70 percent think weather patterns globally have become more unsettled in recent years.

A vast majority, 85 percent, believes global warming probably is occurring, up slightly from 80 percent in a 1998 poll. But fewer than four in 10 are very sure of it, a level of uncertainty that reflects broad and continued belief that scientists themselves disagree on whether or not it's happening.

Sampling, data collection and tabulation for this poll were done by TNS.

Nonetheless, the intensity of concern is up. In 1998, 31 percent called global warming extremely or very important to them personally. Today that's sharply higher, 49 percent, with an additional three in 10 calling it "somewhat" important. It may be that personal experience with disrupted weather patterns -- reported equally across U.S. regions -- is counteracting continued misapprehensions about scientific disagreement.

A Change in the Weather
  In Your Area Globally
Weather patterns
are more unstable
  52%   70%
Average temperatures
are rising
  50   56

Moreover, almost seven in 10 in this benchmark survey by ABC News, Time magazine and Stanford University say the government should do more to address global warming. And just under half -- rising sharply among those who are most concerned -- say it should do "much more." But views on what should be done are fractured, with little support for measures such as higher gasoline or electricity taxes to discourage consumption.

Views of Global Warming:
Then and Now
  Now 1998
Think it's probably
  85%   80%
Personally see it as
very/extremely important
  49   31
Know at least a moderate
amount about it
  58   44
Think scientists
disagree about it
  64   67


A key element in attitudes on global warming is the extent to which doubters continue to influence public perceptions. Despite broad scientific consensus that global warming is happening, 64 percent of Americans perceive "a lot of disagreement" among scientists on that question. Only about a third think most scientists agree that it's begun.

That's essentially unchanged from polls in 1997 and 1998 alike -- despite developments such as a June 2005 statement from 11 national science academies proclaiming that "climate change is real" and calling on governments to take "prompt action" to mitigate it. Others, including the Bush administration, have underscored scientific uncertainties, and this poll finds a sharp political gap in views on whether global warming is occurring, with Republicans much more skeptical about it.

There are other signs of disconnect between scientific and public views. While the academies said that most recent warming can be attributed to human activities, barely over three in 10 Americans believe a rise in world temperatures is caused mainly by things people do. Two in 10 blame mainly natural causes, while the largest group, about half, says it's a combination of both.

Those who think people are the main cause of global warming are much more likely to feel sure it's occurring -- and, more generally, to trust what scientists say about the environment.

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