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Survey: most Americans say nation should treat global warming, clean energy as a priority

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An overwhelming majority of Americans — more than 75 percent — say the president and Congress should make global warming and developing clean energy a priority, according to a survey conducted by researchers at Yale University and George Mason University.

The survey results, released Nov. 13, found that 77 percent of Americans said global warming should be either a "very high" (18 percent), "high" (25 percent), or "medium" priority (34 percent) for the president and Congress. One in four (23 percent) said it should be a low priority.

Nearly all Americans (92 percent) said the president and Congress should make developing sources of clean energy a "very high" (31 percent), "high" (38 percent), or "medium" priority (23 percent). Very few said it should be a low priority (8 percent).

The survey, Climate Change in the American Mind, was conducted by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication. Researchers interviewed 1,061 adults between Aug. 31 and Sept. 12, 2012. The margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

A large majority of Americans (88 percent) said the United States should make an effort to reduce global warming, even if this has economic costs. A plurality (44 percent) favored a medium-scale effort, even if it has moderate economic costs. One in four (24 percent) supported a large-scale effort even if there are large economic costs. And one in five (19 percent) supported a small-scale effort, even if it has small economic costs.

A majority of Americans, 66 percent, said they support regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant.

Majorities also support funding more research into renewable energy sources (73 percent), providing tax rebates for people who purchase energy-efficient vehicles or solar panels (73 percent), eliminating all subsidies for the fossil-fuel industry (59 percent), and expanding offshore drilling for oil and natural gas off the U.S. coast (58 percent).

Most Americans are unfamiliar with the concept of "fracking," the survey found. Only 9 percent say they had heard or read "a lot" about fracking, while 22 percent and 16 percent, respectively, said they had heard or read "some" or "a little" about it. When provided a simple definition – "a way to extract natural gas from shale rock deep underground" – and then asked if they support or oppose the practice, Americans either were undecided or divided: 22 percent supported fracking while 20 percent opposed it. A majority (58 percent) said they were either undecided (27 percent) or "don’t know" (31 percent).

The study was funded by the Surdna Foundation, the 11th Hour Project, the Grantham Foundation and the V.K. Rasmussen Foundation. —JEANNINE ANDERSON


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