This Earth Day, a focus on Earth's warming
Public awareness about climate change is growing; 83 percent of Americans now call it a 'serious' problem.
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More and more, Americans are adopting that attitude. According to the recent Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy poll, 81 percent of those surveyed agree that, "It is my responsibility to help reduce the impacts of global warming." Sixty-three percent agreed that "our country is in as much danger from environmental hazards such as air pollution and global warming as it is from terrorists."Skip to next paragraph
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"Global warming used to be such an amorphous concept," says Melissa Goodall, associate director of the Yale Center. "Now, it's a lot more tangible for people."
Local communities are taking up the cause as well, which both leads and follows public opinion. Two years ago, Seattle mayor Greg Nickels challenged his fellow mayors to meet or beat the Kyoto Protocol targets for US greenhouse-gas emissions – a 7 percent reduction from 1990 levels by 2012. As of this week, 435 mayors have signed up.
And it's not just adults educating themselves about climate change and its implications.
Weekly Reader Research recently surveyed 1,657 students between ages 6 and 18 from schools around the country. The organization found that 64 percent of America's youth have discussed the environment and global warming in class, and a majority (especially girls) expressed concern.
Still, most people are not freaking out over the prospect of climate change, the Gallup polling organization finds.
"While Americans say they are worried about global warming, they also believe the worst manifestations of the problem are a long way off," writes Lydia Saad of the Gallup News Service in her analysis of a poll taken last month.
Gallup asked Americans how worried they are about seven weather events tied to climate change including hurricanes, droughts, rising ocean levels, tropical diseases, and species extinction.
"Generally speaking, not much more than one-third of Americans are 'very worried' about any of the seven effects of global warming measured in the survey," says Ms. Saad. "However, a solid majority are at least 'somewhat worried' about nearly all of them."
At the same time, Gallup finds, Americans by a wide margin – 58 percent to 34 percent – think "the government should put a higher priority on protecting the environment than on increasing energy production." Even though 92 percent think the energy situation in the United States is "serious" (of whom 37 percent say "very serious"), those surveyed favor energy conservation over production by 64-26 percent.
"A lot more people seem willing to go the extra mile, spending a few dollars to help the environment," says Steve Haskins, a Williamstown, Mass., home builder, who's seen a rapid increase in the numbers of requests for sustainable building practices. "Concern about climate is driving it. But it's also cost of energy and cost to heat the house."
Corporate boardrooms are getting the message, too. "There's been a dramatic shift in the business community's attitude toward the environment," says Dan Esty, director of the Yale Center. "Rather than seeing environmental issues as a set of costs to bear, regulation to follow, and risks to manage, companies have begun to focus on the upside, recognizing that society's desire for action on climate change, in particular, will create a huge demand for reducing carbon-content products."
• Mark Clayton in Boston and Faye Bowers in Phoenix contributed to this report.