Evolving US Public Opinion

These scientific, business, political, and religious shifts have been accompanied by shifts in public opinion. According to a survey conducted in February 2007, the percentage of Americans who say global warming is a serious problem has risen to 83 percent, from 70 percent in 2004.29 Some argue that the success of Al Gore's film, An Inconvenient Truth, which won the Oscar award for best documentary in 2007, has also heightened awareness of the dangers of climate change.

A number of skeptics, however, continue to question the science and oppose policy changes regarding climate change. Some claim that climate change is not taking place at all and that warming is simply a natural cycle of change that is not due to human activity. If Hurricane Katrina forced some skeptics to rethink their assumptions about the severity of the threat, the unusually cold winter in 2006-07 was cited as further evidence of the uncertainty of the problem. A sizable portion of the U.S. population continues to believe that changing human behavior will have no effect on the process whatsoever. Instead, humans must simply adapt to changing circumstances.

Caught between climate change advocates and the skeptics are those who admit that warming is occurring but oppose any initiative that might hurt the U.S. economy. These individuals, recognizing that the United States is the world's largest per-capita source of greenhouse gases, argue that the United States will pay the highest price for change. For example, if the United States were to put in place a cap-and-trade system, operating costs for U.S. firms would rise, making imported goods, especially from India and China, even more competitive and possibly driving U.S. companies out of business. Any solution must therefore include these rapidly developing countries.

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