Poll: Climate slides on list of worries on environment, but public still wants action

Americans no longer rank climate change atop a list of the world’s biggest environmental problems, but still favor action to curb greenhouse gases, according to a new Washington Post-Stanford University poll.

The poll — conducted before the heatwave now gripping the eastern United States — finds that 18 percent list global warming as the single biggest global environmental problem.

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That’s down from 25 percent of respondents in the same poll in July of 2008 and 33 percent in April of 2007.

Other findings in the poll are more promising for advocates of action to curb emissions that the overwhelming majority of scientists say are causing the planet to warm.

Seventy-two percent of respondents believe that if nothing is done to prevent it, the world’s temperatures will probably go up slowly over the next 100 years.

And 78 percent say that if nothing is done to reduce global warming, it will be a very serious (40 percent) or somewhat serious (38 percent) problem for the United States.

Thirty-two percent said the U.S. government should do a “great deal” about global warming, 23 percent said “quite a bit” and 26 percent believe the government should take “some” action.

Twenty-nine percent tagged water and air pollution as the most pressing environmental issue today.

A sweeping climate change bill collapsed on Capitol Hill in 2010.

The Environmental Protection Agency has begun regulating greenhouse gas emissions from tailpipes and smokestacks under its existing powers, most recently proposing first-time national emissions standards for new power plants.

However, standards for existing power plants, refineries and other big emitters are on a slower track with no clear timeline.

Trust in scientists has also apparently dipped.

The poll shows that 26 percent trust what scientists say about the environment “completely” or “a lot,” while 38 percent trust them a “moderate” amount and 35 percent trust scientists “a little” or “not at all.” Those figures were 32 percent, 43 percent and 24 percent, respectively, in 2007.

Conservative groups and Republicans have sought to attack the credibility of climate scientists in recent years.

The poll of 804 adults was conducted between June 13 and June 21 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percent, according to the Post.