Poll: Most Americans see combating climate change as a moral duty

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The Kansas River's water levels are being affected by sand and gravel dredging, according to the American Rivers organization. "Dredging widens and deepens the river channel, lowering the water level of the river and the water table," according to the organization. "Dwindling access to water is a major threat to humans, animals, and plants, including agriculture, especially considering the looming concern of climate change."

Creative Commons image by Jolynne Martinez

The Kansas River's water levels are being affected by sand and gravel dredging, according to the American Rivers organization. "Dredging widens and deepens the river channel, lowering the water level of the river and the water table," according to the organization. "Dwindling access to water is a major threat to humans, animals, and plants, including agriculture, especially considering the looming concern of climate change."

(RNS) A significant majority of Americans say combating climate change is a moral issue that obligates them — and world leaders — to reduce carbon emissions, a Reuters/IPSOS poll has found.

The poll of 2,827 Americans was conducted in February to measure the impact of moral language, including interventions by Pope Francis, on the climate change debate. In recent months, the pope has warned about the moral consequences of failing to act on rising global temperatures, which are expected to disproportionately affect the lives of the world’s poor.

The result of the poll suggests that appeals based on ethics could be key to shifting the debate over climate change in the United States, where those demanding action to reduce carbon emissions and those who resist it are often at loggerheads.

Two-thirds of respondents (66 percent) said that world leaders are morally obligated to take action to reduce CO2 emissions. And 72 percent said they were “personally morally obligated” to do what they can in their daily lives to reduce emissions.

“When climate change is viewed through a moral lens it has broader appeal,” said Eric Sapp, executive director of the American Values Network, a grassroots organization that mobilizes faith-based communities on politics and policy issues.

“The climate debate can be very intellectual at times, all about economic systems and science we don’t understand. This makes it about us, our neighbors and about doing the right thing.”

Some observers believe the pope’s message can resonate beyond his own church.

“The moral imperative is the way to reach out to conservatives,” said Rev. Mitch Hescox, president of the Evangelic Environmental Network, a large evangelical organization that advocates for action on climate change.

Talking in terms of values is “the only way forward if we are to bring our fellow Republicans along,” he added.

Some Republican politicians have begun to search for a new message on climate change, in an attempt to distance the party from those who oppose most efforts to limit greenhouse gases and have questioned the science explaining human-caused climate change.

Whether shifting moral beliefs can translate widely into a willingness to modify carbon-intensive lifestyles and assume the costs of weaning the U.S. economy off fossil fuels remains to be seen. U.S. sales of trucks and SUVs have been rising in recent months, for example, spurred by lower gasoline prices.

But moral questions are increasingly invoked in the climate debate — and not just among anti-carbon activists.

In a Feb. 12 speech to oil industry leaders in London, Royal Dutch Shell CEO Ben van Beurden noted that “the issue is how to balance one moral obligation, energy access for all, against the other: fighting climate change.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has also wrapped some of its anti-pollution initiatives in the language of “climate justice,” likening the battle against climate change to the mid-20th century fight for civil rights.

Pope Francis also vowed to make fighting climate change a centerpiece of his papacy, using his authority as head of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics to push political leaders toward a deal at a United Nations-sponsored conference in Paris this December that is aimed at cutting carbon emissions.

The pope has confronted critics of climate change science that finds human activities responsible for increases in global temperatures, saying in January that it is mostly “man who has slapped nature in the face.”

Sixty-four percent of those polled agreed with the pope that human activities are largely responsible for the rising CO2 levels that scientists say drive climate change.

The pope also criticized the negotiators at a global climate conference in Peru last December for “a lack of courage” and has promised to issue an encyclical – a letter setting out papal doctrine – on climate issues that he hopes will add momentum to getting a deal in Paris.

In turn, he has been attacked by those who deny the scientific findings on global warming for aligning himself with environmentalists.

But only one in 10 saw him as a voice of authority on the issue, on a par with Democrats and Republicans in Congress and less than the percentage citing President Barack Obama (18 percent). The poll respondents also said that United Nations scientists and a popular U.S. television host, Bill Nye “The Science Guy”, carry more authority on climate change than U.S. politicians.

The Reuters poll was conducted from Feb. 13 to 25 and the results were weighted to current U.S. population data by gender, age, education and ethnicity. It has a credibility interval – which measures the survey’s precision – of plus or minus 2.1 percentage points.

(Reporting by Bruce Wallace.)


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  • Ron Nussbeck

    The American public does not know why we are seeing Glaciers melting and scientists differ on Carbon emission as a cause.
    What we are witnessing is pole shift of about 33 degrees, it can be seen in both the North and South poles. In Eastern Canada and United States the weather is below normal and large amounts of snow and Ice are seen while the Western Canada and U.S. are warmer. The shift in Earths electromagnetic field will cause massive flooding in areas like NYC much soon that previously thought, I estimate we will see flooding in NYC by 2023. The process of shifting poles in not new to Earth but it is to Humans and 33 degrees is a small amount but you can look at the weather over the last 3 months an predict what the new normal will be for the East.

  • Tim Greene

    God gave this beautiful planet earth to be shared and enjoyed. It’s incumbent upon every human being to protect, cherish and pass on this environment without polluting it to future generations. Not doing so is robbing future generations of their well being.

  • Larry

    So what source are you citing for these?

    The internet is full of junk science and cranks. Knowing where your source is helps determine whether what you posted is something to be taken seriously or just noise.

  • Deacon John M Bresnahan

    Today it is pretty hard to take seriously the global warming media induced hysteria (like the global cooling induced hysteria of a number of decades ago).
    Record cold temps and ice build-ups in ports around the world make it very easy to believe the stories that some of the data proving climate warming has been tampered with or doctored. The pope is right–we have a duty to be good stewards of the environment. But we also need real proofs about the situation and good insights into what should be done.
    Unfortunately, it seems like the issue is becoming another way to demand grant moneys and to squeeze out more wasted money from taxpayers.

  • russ

    As we enter the season of Easter Christians ought to consider what it means to be a good shepherd of this planet. The Pope in particular as he crafts his encyclical on the environment seems ready to declare that being good shepherds is a basic tenet of the teachings of Christ. What most,including the Pope, might not understand is that this planet has pasture not only on land but also even more important ocean pastures. The ocean pastures have steadily been reduced to blue deserts as a result of our noxious emissions of CO2 and neglect. There is a simple and effective solution we can employ to replenish and restore the ocean pastures and in doing so bring back the fish. Bringing fish to multitudes of people through teaching of good shepherding ocean pasture practice as opposed to merely giving a man a fish is surely consistent with the teachings of Jesus. Read more http://russgeorge.net/2015/01/20/papal-advice/

  • 2827 people is not most of America.
    There is no climate change, it’s a scam.

  • J.C. Samuelson

    As governments go about actually addressing the real and increasing effects of and threats posed by changes in our climate, and the gaps in our knowledge continue to shrink, I’m sure the denialist crowd will continue to protest loudly (as indeed some are right in this thread). So, although the Pope and I certainly differ profoundly on questions concerning the value and necessity of theology, I’m glad to know he considers the matter important enough to lend his voice.

  • J.C. Samuelson

    Ron, you’re correct in tying recent polar drift to climate change, but unfortunately you reversed cause & effect and dramatically overestimated the shift. And by the way, your description sounds rather like a doomsday scenario. Wherever you’re getting your info, check their sources.

    Some think polar shift has something to do with climate change due to solar radiation or storms, but this is not the case. Less dramatic polar shifts do not drive climate change, but rather follow it due to changes in the distribution of Earth’s mass, such as when ice melts and sea level rises.

    But, it’s also worth bearing in mind how relatively small these changes in the poles are, and how little they threaten Earth’s magnetic field. After all, this field results from Earth’s mass, particularly its core, and although the field fluctuates we are not more susceptible to solar storms or radiation as a result. Not in the way some suggest.

  • J.C. Samuelson

    Deacon, while I agree with you regarding some of the hype – the Earth will be fine after we disappear – climate change is, in fact, real. Local weather in any number of locations does not in any way indicate a conclusion opposite the one held by the vast majority of climate experts. And as for climatologists doctoring their results, you are mistaken. Climate data is always manipulated to control for local variables, and despite repeated attempts to reevaluate the data it consistently shows an upward trend in global mean temperatures.

    As for grant money, why the assumption of bad faith? Remember, the majority consensus regarding climate change consists of scientists working for non-profit, government or academic organizations in various countries. An energy corporation, by contrast, with a multi-billion dollar budget, a well-developed marketing program, and a vested interest in maintaining the status quo in order to keep investors happy seems much better positioned to engage in the kind of global strategy you’re suggesting.

    Finally, what’s the problem with pursuing clean, sustainable energy sources?

  • DeaconJohnM.Bresnahan

    A number of words and phrases in your serious reply set off alarm bells for me.
    For example–the minute I hear the word “manipulate” with regard to data I begin to ask “Who is the manipulator?” and “Why the fear of showing the raw data???”
    As for trusting a consensus of scientists or other learned people: There was nothing more totally embraced by virtually all doctor-scientists than the benefits of bleeding patients (Used any leeches lately???} And how about the consensus that lead could be turned into gold with the right formula (shall we bring back alchemy??} And it was those in learned circles who overwhelmingly cast their horoscopes and saw their future in the movement of stars.
    I do agree with you about looking for cleaner energy. But that is not an excuse for insulting people (as so many environmentalists do) when others raise serious questions. They take the attitude: “I have spoken. End of debate.”

  • Greg

    Yes, we are about 50 years into a pole shift that will take about 300 years to complete. When scientists extract lava cores, the electromagnetic field causes the lava to freeze in one direction. And the last study I read was citing an alternation of these directional freezes about once every 50,000 years. That is not exact, but approximate. The pole shift, however, doesn’t happen overnight, it takes centuries to complete. And indeed it can affect weather, but modern science has never witnessed one before, so it should be interesting. As for the CO2 emissions, well, they have increased, but we are not really sure how that will affect the weather. It has become more of a business than a science these days. I myself believe politicians should just be honest with everyone, and state the matter simply: we only have one planet; let’s keep it clean for ourselves, and the generations to come.

  • Fran


    You state that “the earth will be fine — after we disappear”…how and why do you propose this disappearance will take place?

  • J.C. Samuelson

    Any time you collect data, you have to process it. You control for variables as best you can. For a very, very simple example, let’s say you’re looking for the average temperature in an area, and you place 10 thermometers in various locations. When you collect your raw data, you then have to process – i.e., manipulate – the numbers in order to find your result. When collecting data for scientific analysis, there are more variables to control for and process, but the principle is the same. Nothing sinister about it.

    As for your examples, there’s no equivalence between the pseudoscience of antiquity and the rigor of modern science. Moreover, I don’t believe there was a “consensus” about any of those things at any point in history. Not in the sense we use today. Here’s a better analogy: 97 doctors tell you you have heart disease and should change your diet & exercise. 3 other doctors tell you not to worry. Who do you listen to?

  • J.C. Samuelson

    Fran, I have no idea what our fate will be as a species, so I can’t answer “how” it will all unfold. But change is inevitable, and although we may be around for quite some time – millions of years, maybe, if we’re clever and lucky enough – with 99% of the species that ever lived on this planet having gone extinct, the odds are not in our favor.

    As for why it will happen, I think I just answered. We are just one rather vulnerable species in a vast and largely hostile universe. The odds of survival are not on our side. And on a long enough timeline, just as we are all doomed to die from the moment we’re born, the human species as we know it is likely to disappear, to be replaced by…who knows?

  • J.C. Samuelson

    Addendum: In the context of the article, humanity may well contribute to its own extinction. The influence we have over the environment is significant, and frankly we don’t know the full consequences of doing nothing.

    To be clear, again I think the Earth will be just fine. I cringe a little every time I hear someone say we have to act to “save the planet.” No, we don’t. The planet is not at risk. It’s residents are. But even if we do end up being the primary driver of the next mass extinction, life will go on without us.

  • Jack

    How does one “fight” climate change?

  • Greg

    How does one fight climate change? Well if CO2 emissions were the source, then the president would need to lead by example, that is, he should stay at the White House and not fly that huge fuel hog of a plane, especially when Skype, and teleconferencing can be used instead. He should not drive around in a gas hog limo with 40 other gas hog vehicles in tow. He should not heat the White House so hot, but instead keep it at 62 F in the winter, and 85 F in the summer. He should stop cooking his food, and instead eat tuna fish and other cold sandwiches. He should not hire anyone who has to travel more than 1 mile to get to work at the White House, or demand that they ride a bike, or walk. And he should turn the lights out in rooms that are not in use. And he should stay off that cell phone unless the call is a necessity. So you see, it all starts at the top. And until that man sets the example, he has no right to tell us how to live.

  • Bertrand

    As sure as global warming is real it is sure that any article concerning it will bring a sudden upsurge of internet trolls who have nothing of value to contribute except half-baked objections gleaned from Rush Limbaugh or some other lackey of the energy industry. Thanks to JC and others who try to answer their comments, but you might as well argue with rocks.

  • Karla

    That is not Jesus way or Obama’s. He must travel far to meet with the people.The blue plane sky is the way.

  • Greg

    Great posts J.C.

    Alas, I think that the flawed thinking of Fran and her ilk could be a contributor to our demise, at least if it spreads.

  • David

    I don’t believe in climate change despite what the Pope says. I’m Catholic and I only have to follow if he is speaking from theChair. This was the Pope’s opinion and I know many people believe in climate change. I have read that climate goes through cycles and there really hasn’t been global warming in years by stats from many reputable scientists. We need to be stewards and respect the environment, but I don’t believe there is climate change.

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