Poll: Most Louisianians see climate change as serious problem

In a state not known for progressive thinking on the environment, a recent poll showed 72 percent of Louisiana residents believe climate change is a serious problem that threatens everyone, in sharp contrast to what many elected leaders have said and done about the issue.

“It’s the great disconnect of our time,” said King Milling, board chairman of America’s Wetland Foundation , the group that paid for the poll, which looked at land loss and a variety of other issues facing coastal Louisiana and lands.

Many Louisiana political leaders have repeatedly said that although climate change exists, it has always existed and there is little government or individuals can do to change that. Most scientists disagree and say the latest climate changes are due to increased releases of man-made greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide that can be curtailed.

The poll findings likely would look different if people were asked not about whether climate change is happening, but whether there’s anything that can be done about it, said Kirby Goidel, professor of political science and mass communication at LSU.

Goidel said he did a study of coastal residents from Florida to Texas and also found high numbers of people who said they were worried about climate change.

“People are worried about it, but I don’t think they know what to do about it,” he said.

It’s not that politicians aren’t concerned about climate change, but they don’t regard it as a priority because their constituents aren’t peppering them with questions on what to do about the issue, according to Bob Mann, professor of mass communication at LSU.

“To do something about it in Louisiana would affect negatively one of the important industries in the state,” Mann said.

Proposals to regulate greenhouse gases have been widely viewed by petrochemical industry representatives as bad for the economy and jobs.

The finding about public concern over climate change was one of many results from a poll the America’s Wetland group released recently gauging public opinion and expectations about Louisiana coastal restoration and Gulf Coast energy issues.

“There were some key points that came out in the poll overall,” said Sidney Coffee, senior adviser with America’s Wetland Foundation.

Some of those points, she said, include that the loss of coastal wetlands is a bipartisan issue, that the public wants various interests in the coastal area to work together to address the problem of coastal wetland loss and that the public doesn’t want a single interest group to delay or derail the restoration effort.

Milling said the poll included people who live all over the state. That helped calm some of the concern he’s had that people and politicians from the northern part of the state aren’t as knowledgeable about coastal land loss issues or don’t think it’s important.

“We need the full strength of the state behind this issue,” Milling said.

The poll shows a high percentage of state residents are interested in coastal restoration and in ways to address the issues confronting the state, according to Val Marmillion, campaign coordinator for America’s Wetland Foundation.

“There is a sense in the poll numbers that if we don’t do it in this generation it won’t get done,” Marmillion said.

The statewide survey was done in a random sample of 400 voters done between Dec. 9 and Dec. 14; the margin of error was plus or minus 4.9 percent, with a 95 percent confidence level.

Some of the other results of the survey include:

Question: There is a link between a strong coastal environment and a strong economy:

Agree 91 percent.

Disagree 9 percent.

Question: Is it reasonable to expect that we can drill for oil in the Gulf of Mexico and protect the environment of the Gulf Coast.

Agree 84 percent.

Disagree 16 percent.

Question: Do you think the federal government should be responsible for protecting coastal areas supplying energy to the U.S.

Be responsible 90 percent.

Should not be responsible 10 percent.

The oil industry has a responsibility to lobby Congress for federal protection of coastal areas that support energy development.

Agree 87 percent.

Disagree 13 percent.