Survey finds most Americans worry about drought, want shift to cleaner energy to conserve water, cut pollution

• August 16, 2012
cracked earth from drought

Creative Commons: Matt Rudge, 2006

Water — and how to protect it in the face of worsening drought conditions — is now a hot topic across America.

Faced with record-breaking 2012 summer heat, 81 percent of Americans are concerned about “increased drought” and other extreme weather conditions, according to a major new ORC International survey conducted for the nonprofit and nonpartisan Civil Society Institute (CSI). In addition to the national poll data, more detailed results were presented for the drought-hit states of Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, South Carolina, and Texas.

Conducted July 26-30, 2012, the CSI survey found that concerns about drought go hand in hand with worries about water shortages and also how to avoid making them worse. Three out of four Americans –including 61 percent of Republicans, 84 percent of Democrats and 80 percent of Independents — think that “with all the current concern about severe drought and the risk of water shortages, America needs to start focusing more on alternative energy sources, such as wind and solar, that require less water.” This view is shared consistently across nearly all drought-stricken states surveyed.

Water is the #1 worry

Shortages of safe drinking water due to drought and “the diversion of water for energy production” is the No. 1 overall worry in the 10 drought-stricken states with 63 percent “very concerned,” reaching highs of 74 percent in Florida and 71 percent in Georgia. Nationwide, nearly two thirds (64 percent) of Americans are “very concerned” about the prospect of “possible shortages of safe drinking water” due to drought and diversion for energy production. This issue is topped nationally only by concerns about higher food prices (66 percent), and is trailed by higher gasoline prices (61 percent), higher utility bills (49 percent), and diminished recreational activities (24 percent).

  • Well over four out of five Americans (85 percent) – including 76 of Republicans, 91 percent of Democrats and 88 percent of Independents – say that the availability of ample clean water should be a top national priority for the U.S. In drought-hit states, the total rises to 86 percent in California and 90 percent in Georgia.
  • About two out of three Americans (65 percent) think “the national government needs to do more to address extreme weather impacts.” In drought states, views on this issue are strongest in Nevada (69 percent) and Florida (76 percent).
  • Americans want an energy/water “road map” for the U.S. Nearly nine out of 10 Americans (89 percent) – including 86 percent of Republicans, 93 percent of Democrats and 85 percent of Independents – believe that “U.S. energy planning and decision making must be made with full knowledge and understanding about the availability of water regionally and locally, and the impact this water use from specific energy choices has on their economies, including agricultural production.”

“Across the political spectrum, Americans are united in their understanding that an ample supply of clean water is essential to our health and to our energy future. This drought and the other extreme weather events we are experiencing provide a painful reminder of that reality. We must move to a clean energy future that doesn’t solely consider carbon emissions; it must also safeguard the quality of our drinking water and the overall environment. The vast majority of Americans know that the same businessas-usual and ‘all of the above’ approach to energy policy simply isn’t going to get us there. We must have a fundamental shift toward clean alternatives like wind and solar instead of doubling down on water-intensive and potentially dangerous energy sources like fracking and nuclear power.” – Heather White, general counsel, Environmental Working Group

Other key survey findings

  • Seven out of 10 Americans – including 63 percent of Republicans, 76 percent of Democrats and 70 percent of Independents – support a “precautionary principle” approach to addressing water and energy issues. The 70 percent endorsed the following statement: “The precautionary principle would advocate a conservative approach to the use of technologies that may put public health at risk and create irreversible environmental harm. If there is not enough scientific evidence showing that it is safe, precaution should guide decisions in those cases.”
  • Two thirds of Americans – including 50 percent of Republicans, 78 percent of Democrats, and 68 percent of Independents – now think that climate change is “real” or “appears to be happening”. Only 6 percent of Americans now say that climate change is “definitely not happening”. Residents in nine out of 10 drought states – ranging from a low of 63 percent in Texas to highs of 76 percent in Florida and 80 percent in California – are as or more likely than the rest of America to think that climate change is real.
  • Of those Americans who say that they think climate change is real or appears to be happening, 73 percent – including 65 percent of Republicans, 78 percent of Democrats and 68 percent of Independents — have been influenced in their views by “recent extreme weather events in the United States — including drought, wildfires, high-wind storms, and other developments.” In drought-stricken states, two-thirds of those who recognize the existence of climate change have been influenced by recent weather events, reaching highs of 80 percent of those surveyed in Texas and Florida.
  • About two in five Americans (39 percent) have “personally experienced the impact of drought in the last year.” In drought-hit states, this jumps to highs of 74 percent in Missouri, 69 percent in Texas, 63 percent in New Mexico, and 62 percent in Colorado.
  • More than three quarters of Americans (77 percent) — including 62 percent of Republicans, 88 percent of Democrats and 83 percent of Independents – are concerned about the drilling process known as fracking. Nearly three out of five Americans (58 percent) are aware of “fracking” today, compared to 27 percent who said they know nothing about it.
  • About four out of five Americans (79 percent) — including 77 percent of Republicans, 83 percent of Democrats and 80 percent of Independents — support “tighter public disclosure requirements as well as studies of the health and environmental consequences of the chemicals used in natural gas drilling.”

Read the full findings of the survey online at CivilSocietyInstitute.org.


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TckTckTck is the online hub for the Global Call for Climate Action. The GCCA represents an unprecedented alliance of more than 400 nonprofit organizations from around the world. Our shared mission is to mobilize civil society and galvanize public support to ensure a safe climate future for people and nature, to promote the low-carbon transition of our economies, and to accelerate the adaptation efforts in communities already affected by climate change.

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