Large majorities blame Sandy on global warming

Most New Yorkers think Sandy is a result of climate change, a new poll shows

Topics: Hurricane Sandy, Global Warming, Climate Change, Polling, FEMA,

New Yorkers overwhelmingly agree that climate change was behind super storm Sandy, which hit that state particularly hard a little over a month ago. Fully 69 percent of Empire State residents blame climate change for the storm, while just 24 percent think it was “isolated weather events,” according to a Siena Research Institute poll released this morning. That includes at least 63 percent of voters in every region of the state, and even a near-majority — 46 percent — of Republicans. Two-thirds of independent voters also blame climate change. “There may be a debate about what has caused the global climate change, but for most New Yorkers there is no debate that it is occurring,” said pollster Steven Greenberg of the strong consensus.

Meanwhile, as President Obama is pushing to include new infrastructure spending in a deal to avert the fiscal cliff in Washington, 72 percent of New Yorkers favor “a major infrastructure project that would seek to protect New York City from future dramatic weather events.” New York residents also gave strong marks Gov. Andrew Cuomo, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Obama, and FEMA  for their handling of the storm response, the poll found.

The strong belief in global warming may seem surprising given how little the issue is discussed in Washington or on cable news, but New York state is not much of an aberration. The National Journal asked voters nationwide last month if they think “global climate change is increasing the likelihood that the U.S. will be hit by storms such as Hurricane Sandy” — 57 percent said yes. Pollster John Zogby found this year’s extreme weather has had a “dramatic impact” on the public’s thoughts on climate change. Half of Republicans, 73 percent of independents, and 82 percent of Democrats now they’re “worried about the growing cost and risks of extreme weather disasters fueled by climate change,” he found, a significant increase over previous years.

Even Rasmussen, which critics say produces results that favor conservative politicians and issues, found a similar trend. A post-Sandy poll found that nearly 70 percent of likely voters said global warming is at least a somewhat serious problem, with 38 percent saying they believe it’s “Very Serious.”

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Indeed, polling consistently shows Americans understand climate change more than politicians likely give them credit for. The public is, however, more divided on what do about global warming, as many do not want to pay higher energy or other costs needed to address the problem.

But the problem is likely not going anywhere. In a prescient report released on October 17,  just a few days before Sandy formed, German reinsurance giant Munich Re warned that climate-driven severe weather is going to a serious issue insurers in coming years. And “nowhere in the world is the rising number of natural catastrophes more evident than in North America,” the report stated.

Despite all this, climate change was never mentioned the during the four presidential or vice presidential debates of the campaign season and has been almost completely absent from congressional debate since a cap and trade bill died in 2009. But Congress may not be able to avoid it much longer. The costs of Sandy has risen precipitously since the immediate aftermath of the storm and Bloomberg is now requesting a whopping $80 billion in aid from the federal government — more than FEMA’s entire budget. That means that Congress may have to take up the disaster relief issue soon, and it will be hard to ignore climate change along with it.

As Obama contemplates his second term agenda, environmental and climate activists are cautiously optimistic  he’ll make climate change an issue again. Of course, it will be nearly impossible to get anything through Congress as long as Republicans control the House and continue to play dumb on the science, but the polls suggest the American public is already ahead of Washington on this issue.

Alex Seitz-Wald
Alex Seitz-Wald is Salon's political reporter. Email him at aseitz-wald@salon.com, and follow him on Twitter @aseitzwald.

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