By Meg BortinInternational Herald Tribune
February 23, 2007
At a time when world concern about global warming is on the rise, residents polled in five European countries and the United States overwhelmingly said they believed that industrial companies should be taxed according to the amount of pollution they produce, a new survey has found. The poll, conducted for the International Herald Tribune and the French television station France 24 by Harris Interactive, an online polling organization, surveyed 6,576 people in Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United States.
"It is extremely significant that so many people want action taken on climate change and that they want costs attached to it," said Kirsty Hamilton, a London-based international policy expert on climate change. Respondents in all six countries also strongly agreed that politicians were not doing enough to address the challenge of global warming. In the United States, which has angered Europeans by refusing to ratify the Kyoto Protocol on reducing greenhouse gases, only 14 percent of those surveyed said they felt politicians were doing enough to address global warming, while 75 percent said they did not. In the other countries polled, even greater numbers said politicians were not doing enough, from 80 percent in Britain to 89 percent in Spain.
The survey was conducted as top climate change scientists from around the world were reporting that global warming was "unequivocal" and that human activity was very likely to blame. The scientists issued their report on Feb. 2; the poll respondents were questioned from Jan. 31-Feb. 12. This could explain the high levels of disquiet expressed by respondents. Asked whether their governments were doing enough to inform individuals about steps they could take to preserve the environment, all six groups again massively said no. This view was shared by 81 percent in Italy, 78 percent in France and Spain, 75 percent in Germany, 73 percent in the United States and 69 percent in Britain.
Asked who is responsible for global warming, however, respondents blamed themselves along with industrialists and politicians. Between 54 and 61 percent in the six countries said that industry, governments and people in general were all responsible. Environmentalists hailed the poll results and said that, given public sentiment on the matter, it was now up to governments to take action.
"The 'polluter pays' principle is just common sense, and it's great to see that the public holds that opinion," said Gerd Leipold, executive director of Greenpeace International. "Now it's up to our governments to create the regulations so that polluters actually pay." The idea of directly taxing polluting industries is not new, but there has been strong resistance to implementing any such measure. Instead of taxing polluters, the European Union operates a fledgling system to force industry to restrict carbon-dioxide emissions that warm the planet. Companies may produce a certain amount of pollution and bear costs if they exceed that level: They must either pay to implement pollution-reduction measures or buy new allowances. Similar programs are under consideration in parts of the United States. The poll also asked respondents what they would be willing to do in their personal lives to help protect the environment. Among the findings:
Europeans are far more willing than Americans to use public transport instead of cars. But when asked to select two of five possible steps they could take to help reduce air pollution, about half of Americans polled said they would be willing to buy hybrid cars or drive smaller cars. In all countries surveyed, 10 percent or fewer said they would be willing to pay a toll to use a car in city centers. In Britain, where Londoners already pay such a toll, respondents were nearly four times as likely to want to ride a bicycle (34 percent) as to be taxed for driving into downtown (9 percent.) Residents of sun-drenched Italy show far greater willingness to install solar panels than do Britons or Americans. But far more Americans and Britons are willing to turn down the thermostat 2 degrees in winter than are people in the other countries surveyed. Relatively few of those surveyed are ready to stop using a clothes dryer. Germans are the most willing and Americans the least. Responses varied widely on steps to reduce waste. Germans were the most willing to use their own shopping bag instead of plastic bags and Italians to sort their trash and take it to a recycling point.