Poll: Floridians support Crist's climate change agenda

08/08/07 Seán Kinane
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An opinion poll released today at a press conference in the Westin Hotel on Tampa’s Harbor Island revealed that Floridians of all political stripes support Gov. Charlie Crist’s policies on climate change.

The Mason-Dixon/Environmental Defense poll is the first to ask Floridians how they feel about climate change since the governor’s climate change summit in Miami last month.

In general, responses from Republicans were less favorable than those from Independents and Democrats on many questions. But Tucker Eskew, the former deputy assistant to President George W. Bush, cited Republican responses that approved of aspects of Crist’s climate change policy.

“In this poll, 78 percent of Republicans support Gov. Crist on reducing carbon dioxide emissions to 2000 levels. Seventy-nine percent of Republicans support Gov. Crist in working toward a nonpartisan solution to these challenges. Fully 65 percent of Republicans in this statewide Florida survey agree with capping emissions from major sources.”

In July, Gov. Crist announced agreements with Germany and the United Kingdom focusing on climate policies and economics, and he signed three executive orders relating to Florida’s energy policy. One instituted a task force on energy and climate change, the other two dealt with reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by Floridians and within the state government.

Eskew said he was excited about the results of the opinion poll of 625 registered voters across the state, conducted between July 23rd and 25th.

“I believe we’re here today at the forefront of some really exciting change. We’re here today because our country is getting ready to enter a new energy future and Florida is leading the way. The proof is in this poll, you’ve got some of the results. The proof therefore is in the people. And what’s more, the proof is in some of the political leaders, like Gov. Crist in particular. And as a Republican strategist, I’m excited that proof is coming on the right.”

More than three-quarters of all Democrats and Independents agree with Gov. Crist’s statement that "Global climate change is one of the most important issues we face in this country, and we must make every effort to do what is right. Our state’s future depends on it."

But only half of the surveyed Florida Republicans agree.

Besides Eskew, two other self described “low carbon conservatives” spoke at the press conference, Manatee County Commissioner Joe McClash and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker. Baker, who is also chair of the Century Commission for a Sustainable Florida, said he supports alternatives to fossil fuels for national security, environmental, and economic reasons.

"I believe that the alternative energy field is going to be one of the driving economic forces over the next 50 to 100 years in our country and the state of Florida needs to be part of that. We should not only be part of that, but because quality of life in our state and the quality of our environment in our state is absolutely tied to the economic prosperity of our state, we need to be the leader in that movement.”

Fifty-three percent of those polled said the benefits of taking action on global warming would be worth the economic costs, but less than 40 percent of Republicans felt that way. Manatee County Commissioner Joe McClash said action has to be taken right way.

“We may not be in a crisis today where the sea water is rising in the state of Florida, but that’s the reality of the global crisis that we’re in and if we don’t do something about it, Florida will lose a lot of its precious resources.”

The survey found that 86 percent of Floridians approved of Crist’s proposal to adopt a "Clean Car Standard" to require that new cars sold in Florida be more fuel-efficient.

McClash said that Manatee County has increased the efficiency of its vehicle fleet and his county was doing other things to reduce energy use.

“Trying to achieve green building designs for our government buildings, our judicial center is a combination of a re-use of an existing site that, at the end of the day, will have a very energy efficient building; plus reutilizing existing buildings which save energy and save from the effects of having to throw stuff in your landfills and things of that nature.”

Mayor Baker suggested some things the state or federal government could do to help reverse climate change.

“What can you do for instance in encouraging and ‘incentivizing’ in the automobile industry, things like hybrids and alternative forms of transportation, mass transit and those sorts of things, to try to provide incentives for folks to do that so that they’re not using the eight-cylinder vehicle that’s putting a lot of carbon into the atmosphere?

"From the energy perspective, we have to look at both energy conservation, how can we conserve the energy that we’re using right now. What are the alternatives to coal plants and oil plants and plants that are emitting carbon into the atmosphere?”

WMNF asked the panelists about one of the alternatives to fossil fuels, nuclear power. Some problems associated with nuclear power include the cost -- it is very expensive and survives on billions of dollars of government subsidies. Nuclear power plants emit tons of the greenhouse gas water vapor, and the half-life of dangerous nuclear waste is thousands of years. All the panelists said that nuclear energy still should be an option for Florida’s future.

Gerald Karnas, director of the Environmental Defense Florida Climate Change Project, had this to say:

“Can nuclear automatically be taken off the table? Look, if you really believe we’re in a planetary crisis and we’re going to reach a tipping point when it comes to global warming, might there have to be a nuclear plant built here or there across the country? Maybe. I don’t know. But that’s what this process going forward is going to have to iron out.

"We certainly hope that the focus is on what I call the redheaded stepchildren of energy over the past 50 years. Solar, wind, renewables. They’ve never had the type of political, economic and market support as some of the fossil fuels over the years. Now is the time to really let those technologies shine through.”

To learn more:

Environmental Defense

Century Commission for a Sustainable Florida

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