A new CNN/ORC poll reaffirms that a majority of Americans favor construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. That gives congressional Republicans an added boost in their drive to approve the $8 billion project to transport crude oil from Alberta, Canada, south to the Gulf Coast.
Some 57 percent of the 1,011 Americans surveyed Dec. 18-21 support the pipeline project, while only 28 percent are against it and 15 percent said they aren’t sure. No big surprise here, because previous polls have shown that as many as two-thirds of the public favor the project as a way of bolstering the economy, creating new construction jobs and enhancing the country’s energy self-sufficiency.
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The CNN poll also offers some eye-opening insights into Americans’ views of the threat of global warming. A majority of those polled – or 57 percent – said that global warming will not pose a serious threat to their way of life, while only 43 percent said they expect global warming will affect them and their families.
WHY THIS MATTERS
The new Republican Congress and President Obama have listed their priorities for the coming year – including tax reform, trade and infrastructure -- but with no mention of addressing global warming. Many mainstream scientists have warned repeatedly that, if left unchecked, the rise in greenhouse gas emissions will be catastrophic and highly costly in the coming decades. But with so many Americans either unaware or disbelieving of the threat of climate change, it’s no surprise that conservative lawmakers continue to put industrial growth ahead of environmental protection.
Meanwhile – despite ample scientific evidence that carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants and other industrial facilities contribute directly to climate change – only 50 percent of Americans believe global warming is caused by man-made emissions. Twenty-three percent insist that global warming is caused by natural changes while 26 percent said that man’s contribution to the mounting climate change problems isn’t proven fact.
In other words, a huge number of Americans essentially buy into newly ensconced Republican Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee Chair James Inhofe’s view that scientists’ alarm over global warming is largely a hoax that is threatening much-needed industrial expansion. Inhofe has compared the Environmental Protection Agency to the Gestapo, according to the Huffington Post. He thinks the United Nations invented the idea of climate change to “shut down the machine called America.”
This may all help explain why the Obama administration and environmentalists have faced an uphill climb over the past six years in trying to generate political support for ways to reduce the production of greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming.
Substantial scientific research by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and others over the years have documented the connections between man-made carbon emissions and global warming and have warned of dire consequences – from drought and fierce storms to melting of polar ice caps to rising sea levels that threaten coastal areas.
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Last Wednesday, a study by Harvard and Rutgers university scientists published in the journal Nature confirmed numerous previous estimates that the rate of sea-level rise jumped 5 inches over the course of the 20th century.
A United Nations subcommittee led by Peter U. Clark, a geologist at Oregon State University, and John A. Church, a scientist with Australia’s national scientific organization said last year the sea could rise as much as three feet by the end of this century if nothing was done to prevent the continued high levels of greenhouse gases, The New York Times reported yesterday.
Last September, White House budget director Shaun Donovan declared in a speech that unabated global warming will have huge budget and economic consequences for the U.S., potentially draining state and federal coffers of hundreds of billions of dollars in the coming years. Donovan’s speech, in advance of President Obama’s participation at the United Nations Climate Summit, offered a sobering fiscal scenario for the country as rising temperatures fostered worse hurricanes, storms, wildfires and flooding.
Some scientists and conservative lawmakers like Inhofe have challenged the research and argue that warnings of the risks from climate change are overblown. In his speech to the liberal Center for American Progress, Donovan said, “From where I sit, climate action is a must do, climate inaction is a can’t do, and climate denial scores – and I don’t mean scoring points on the board. I mean that it scores in the budget – climate denial will cost us billions of dollars.”
Related: Global Warming Skeptics Give Obama the Cold Shoulder
A Department of State analysis of the Keystone Pipeline proposal found that it would increase greenhouse gas emissions. That’s because oil from Alberta’s tar sands is one of the most polluting kinds of oil and considerable energy must be expended to extract the oil from the tar sands, according to Scientific American. The State Department also noted that just running the pipeline for a year once built would generate the same greenhouse gas pollution as roughly 300,000 cars over the same period of time. Moreover, the oil carried by the pipeline could add as much as 27 million metric tons of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere each year, most of that from its ultimate use as fuel.
However, regardless of whether the pipeline is ever built, TransCanada will continue to mine and melt tar sands in Canada – adding to the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. The company already is shipping the oil by rail or truck, and would continue to do so Obama ultimately blocks the pipeline project.
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