Public attitudes will guide how, when and whether governments respond to challenges such as climate change and energy security. Public opinion influences national priorities and the acceptability — as well as the acceptance — of new policies and technologies. In the coming decade, public awareness and concerns about energy and climate change could shift dramatically if energy prices continue to rise, if concerns about political stability in the Middle East and in other major energy-producing regions of the world continue and if national policy initiatives and international agreements push countries to take aggressive actions to stem carbon emissions and reduce water and air pollution.
In the United States, many people now recognize climate change as a serious problem that warrants action. This is a major shift in attitude from just a few years ago. In addition, people have become more willing to discuss options such as nuclear power and carbon capture and sequestration. Continued public education is critical and the tracking of public attitudes in the United States and elsewhere is needed to determine what people know and believe about energy and the environment, their preferences about future energy sources and their attitudes about economic and environmental tradeoffs.