Survey fires up debate on climate

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It’s been a hot week for global warming.

Al Gore’s movie about the greenhouse effect opens in New York and California. While it’s unlikely to beat the Da Vinci Code at the box office, it is reportedly a colorful, engaging and thought-provoking examination of the issue.

Meanwhile, a longtime environmental author and global-warming doubter, Greg Easterbrook, shocked his audience Wednesday by announcing that he was switching sides.

“The science has changed from ambiguous to near-unanimous,” he wrote Wednesday in a New York Times op-ed piece. “As an environmental commentator, I have a long record of opposing alarmism. But based on the data, I’m now switching sides regarding global warming, from skeptic to convert.”

Well, you’ve got to respect a man who is able to weigh the evidence and change his mind. Easterbrook’s 1995 book, “A Moment on the Earth,” which dismissed the greenhouse effect, was oft-quoted by oil and coal executives opposed to stricter environmental controls, so his public defection is significant.

But, at least for Maine, the most interesting development last week was the release of a national poll of sportsmen and women commissioned by the National Wildlife Federation.

The poll is important for several reasons.

First, the loss of habitat and slight changes in climate can have a big impact on wildlife. Second, Maine, with its economic reliance on outdoor tourism, hunting and fishing, has a disproportionately large stake in this debate. Third, sportsmen form a large and active political force in the U.S. An estimated 20 percent of Americans hunt or fish.

The poll found that 76 percent of hunters and anglers now agree that global warming is real and that they have personally observed changes in climactic conditions. Those include less snow, thinner winter ice, earlier ice-outs and warmer summers.

Nearly 70 percent of sportsmen believe the nation’s energy policy is on the wrong track, and 86 percent say the administration and Congress are not doing enough to break our addiction to oil.

Only 15 percent of the sportsmen believe the best way to address our energy needs is by drilling more oil and gas wells in the U.S.

More than two-thirds say they would vote for a candidate who supports stronger laws and quick action to counter global warming.

The survey results also show that the issue of global warming now cuts across the partisan divide in this country. Three-quarters of the respondents to the survey label themselves as moderates or conservatives.

The poll results suggest that ordinary Americans are coming to accept what the overwhelming proportion of scientists have long believed – that mankind’s increasing thirst for fossil fuels is affecting our climate.

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