Urging Action (But Not Too Drastic!) To Solve The Global-Warming Crisis

In the war on illegal drugs, the consensus is that dealers must be dealt with harshly while mere users are treated more gently. As if inspired by George Bush’s recent remarks on the nation’s “addiction” to oil, Americans favor an oddly similar approach to global warming: They think the government should force companies to take steps that reduce global warming, even as they flinch at action that would squeeze the companies’ consumers (i.e., themselves). A Time/ABC News/Stanford University poll shows the conflicted state of opinion.

It’s clear that Americans take the topic more seriously than in the past. Forty-nine percent said the issue is “extremely” or “very” important to them, vs. 31 percent in 1998. Many think they’ve seen global warming first hand: 52 percent said weather patterns in the county where they live have grown more unstable in the past three years; 50 percent think average temperatures have risen there. U.S. companies come in for lots of blame for perceived harm to the planet. Eleven percent of respondents said companies did “a great deal of harm” in the past year, and 18 percent said they did “a lot of harm”; 37 percent said companies did “a moderate amount” of harm. Against this backdrop, 68 percent think the government “should do more” to prevent global warming, including 46 percent who think it should do “much more.” Sixty-one percent said the government should require that power plants cut their emissions of greenhouse gases. Nearly half (45 percent) said it should compel automakers to build cars that use less gasoline, and 42 percent said it should require the manufacture of energy-efficient home appliances. But when asked about steps that would impinge directly on their own pocketbooks, some of those who decry global warming get cold feet. Eighty-one percent oppose raising taxes on electricity in order to promote conservation; 68 percent oppose raising gasoline taxes to encourage less driving and more purchases of fuel-efficient cars.

If people are reluctant to put their money where their eco-friendly mouths are, it might be because relatively few feel personally imperiled by global warming. One section of the poll asked respondents to say how much (if at all) global warming threatens various constituencies. A majority said it threatens future generations “a great deal” (60 percent); 51 percent said it’s that serious a menace to poor people now living in undeveloped nations. Fewer said it poses such a threat to “people living now in other modern industrialized nations” (34 percent) or to other Americans (32 percent). Even fewer said it threatens “you personally” a great deal (25 percent).