There was a survey conducted in the Fall of 2008 that asked detailed questions about climate-related issues. The study was conducted by the Yale Project on Climate Change and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication. The report is available for download [LINK], or you can read a summary at the Center for American Progress [LINK]. You should definitely start with the summary, and take a look at those graphs. The bottom line is that report breaks the American population into 6 groups based on their beliefs about climate change. Notable about this analysis is that it finds 51% of Americans are quite concerned about global warming, and are prepared to take actions (by voting and spending). That is terrific, as it shows that the message has finally penetrated to mainstream America. Even better, only 7% are "dismissive" of global warming, meaning they don't believe it is even happening. This makes all the deniers on the internet seem even more out of touch and fanatical. There are another 11% that are "doubtful," which is a mix of people who don't know what to believe or think it might be a "natural cycle." So, even if we take all 18% on this side, they only balance the "alarmed" on the other side. Of course, taken a different way, it means almost 1 in 5 Americans still don't think global warming is important.
I guess there are a couple of important things to take away from these results. First, that we can now confidently say that "most Americans" believe global warming is real, caused by humans, and should be addressed. Next, there are at least 18% of Americans that are willing to take strong action to be part of addressing global warming, and in fact, 34% think large-scale action should be taken by the USA government even if it costs a lot. These are the people who will engage in "consumer activism," meaning they will reward or punish companies based on their environmental stands. This means that companies that are eco-friendly should (and already are in many cases) say so, while companies that are not will try to obfuscate their views. In terms of activism, environmental groups should point out companies that are both ends of the spectrum to promote this consumer activism, as knowing which companies are where is a big impediment to actually acting.
I guess the last big point that strikes me is that these results are not in line with the USA government's actions in climate change and energy policy. As I have repeatedly pointed out, the government has done little of substance to address global warming. The current administration talks pretty good talk, but the congress has decided to sit on their hands and worry about getting re-elected. The big Copenhagen meeting is coming up, and it isn't likely that a binding resolution will come out of that. So the American people now have to make their voices heard on these issues. Since most Americans now believe that action should be taken, and since the basic science supports this majority opinion, and emerging science suggests impacts are already being felt in sensitive ecosystems and climate regimes, it seems no good can come from putting off actual action. When I say actual action, I mean (1) consumer activism as mentioned above, (2) political activism via voting for candidates who pledge to take action on climate policy, (3) political activism via pressuring congress to pass climate and energy policy, and (3) domestic legislation and international agreements with binding targets to reduce carbon emissions and punish those countries that do not participate or do not comply with the agreements.
Maybe a way to start is by visiting the up-and-comer in climate activism, 350.org. Sign a petition or send your congressperson a message. Go support climate change policy by participating in the International Day of Action on 24 October. As much as it doesn't sound like it, one of the most useful ways to help galvanize meaningful action is to donate money to organizations that interface more directly with lawmakers.... sigh, yes, these are "lobbyists." But there are good organizations out there that are really fighting for rational policy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Examples are the Union of Concerned Scientists, 350.org, the Environmental Defense Fund, or the Save Our Environment Action Center (which is a confederation of other groups).