WASHINGTON -- Only one in five Americans would be willing to pay significantly more for gas or electricity, even if they were assured that it meant solving the climate change crisis, according to a HuffPost/YouGov poll conducted this week.

Most Americans, according to the survey, believe that climate change is occurring and that it causes serious problems, including more frequent and severe natural disasters. But only 21 percent said they would be willing to pay 50 percent more at the pump or for electricity bills to fight it. Fifty-four percent say they would be unwilling to do so. The rest were unsure.

The reluctance to pay significantly more for energy to stop climate change isn't limited to deniers or to those who think it's an insignificant problem.

The survey found that 61 percent of respondents agree that global warming is occurring
(18 percent say it is not) and 51 percent say that climate change is related to more frequent and severe natural disasters (23 percent say it is not).

An earlier HuffPost/YouGov survey found that 63 percent of Americans believe human activity is at least contributing to climate change, though only half of those respondents said that it was the primary cause.

Climate scientist Martin Hoffert said that the reason for Americans' unwillingness to make a personal sacrifice was "fear of the perceived radical change in lifestyle, a major downscaling something like an accelerated collapse of the Roman Empire, implied by phasing out fossil fuel CO2 emissions virtually entirely over the next 50 years -- which is what's required realistically to keep global warming below two degrees to forestall irreversible melting of grounded ice sheets."

Hoffert suggested investment in alternative energy through an "Apollo-like program," which, he said, may create jobs. He pointed out that alternative energy development was a small part of the U.S. budget, meaning that even a big increase in spending on alternative energy could be cost-effective for Americans.

Michael Mann, a climate scientist at Penn State University, said the survey's questions citing 50 percent higher costs may prove to seriously overestimate prices associated with curbing climate change. But factoring the consequences of climate change into the cost of fossil fuels would necessarily increase the price, he said.

"The fact is, if you do internalize that cost, then energy prices probably go up somewhat, but I don't think it's a whole lot," Mann said. "Right now, as alternative energy technologies are improving, that difference is getting smaller and smaller, to the point where a little bit of an increase can lead to a rapid transition."

The HuffPost/YouGov poll was conducted online Oct. 29-30 among 1,000 U.S. adults and has a margin of error of five percentage points. It used a sample that was selected from YouGov's opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population. Factors considered include age, race, gender, education, employment, income, marital status, number of children, voter registration, time and location of Internet access, interest in politics, religion and church.

Hoffert had another thought on the survey and its implications for the future:

Stepping back from the immediate moment, one could say that all this is implicit when naked apes with a big brain adapted to live short brutish lives of hunter-gatherers on the African Savannah stumble upon agriculture freeing some to develop writing and culture and eventually the scientific and industrial revolutions leading to their explosive growth, like a cancer, over the entire planet Earth. We invented the technology which extended our lives and changed everything about what we need to survive, but never adapted in a genetic Darwinian sense to the new global environment we created. Some might say this is necessarily a time bomb, that we have all the wrong instincts to live with our technology, and that climate change is the leading edge [of] a wave of destruction needed to restart the process. The fact that people aren't willing to make the personal sacrifices to combat the climate change they created is interesting and true but it isn't in my opinion the most important question. [T]he most important question is whether Homo sapiens can adopt a narrative leading to the sustainable existence of high tech civilization on Earth?

Also on HuffPost:

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  • President Barack Obama

    In a hastily organized press briefing at the White House, Obama said Monday that his race with Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is the furthest thing from his mind as the East Coast braces for what could be its worst storm in history. "I am not worried at this point about the impact on the election. I am worried about the impact on families. I am worried about the impact on our first responders," he said. "The election will take care of itself next week." ... He also sent out a campaign email on Monday urging supporters to heed advice from local authorities and extending an early thank you to first responders. “Michelle and I are keeping everyone in the affected areas in our thoughts and prayers. Be safe,” reads the email, signed by Obama. -- <em><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/29/hurricane-sandy-obama_n_2042403.html?1351610452">HuffPost's Jennifer Bendery and Lynne Peeples </a></em>

  • Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney

    Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney took a moment in an overflow room ahead of a campaign rally Monday to express his concern for those in the path of Hurricane Sandy and encourage the people of Ohio to do what they could to help those out east. “I want to mention that our hearts and prayers are with all the people in the storm's path," he said in Avon Lake, Ohio. "Sandy is another devastating hurricane by all accounts, and a lot of people are going to be facing some real tough times as a result of Sandy's fury." He went on to encourage those who can afford it to make a donation to the Red Cross. "If there are other ways that you can help, please take advantage of them because there will be a lot of people that are going to be looking for help and the people in Ohio have big hearts, so we're expecting you to follow through and help out," he said. Romney concluded the rally by echoing his comments from the overflow room. "This looks like another time we all need to come together," he said. -- <em><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/29/mitt-romney-hurricane-sandy_n_2039620.html?1351610466">HuffPost's Elise Foley</a></em>

  • New Jersey Governor Chris Christie

    New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) continued his praise of President Barack Obama's work responding to Hurricane Sandy, using a press briefing Monday evening to note that he appreciated the "leadership" Obama was showing in the emergency. Christie, a prominent surrogate for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, said that he and Obama had a private phone conversation on Monday to discuss how the federal government could help New Jersey. He said that Obama told Christie that he could call him directly over the next 48 hours if the state government had issues with federal response to the hurricane in New Jersey. “I appreciate that type of leadership," Christie said of Obama. The Republican governor said most of the call centered on Obama's concern for New Jersey and then he continued to heap praise on the president, saying Obama's work has been "proactive." Christie shortened a campaign trip for Romney to return to New Jersey to handle the storm response. Christie started his praise of Obama during press briefings on Sunday, when he said "appreciated" Obama's outreach to him and the governors of other states being impacted by Hurricane Sandy. During a press briefing on Monday afternoon, Christie described another call he had with Obama and said that the president and his aides have been working to benefit New Jersey. “We appreciate the president’s efforts in that regard," Christie said earlier Monday. "He and his staff worked tremendously hard.” -- <em><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/29/chris-christie-sandy-obama_n_2041673.html">HuffPost's John Celock</a></em>

  • New York Governor Andrew Cuomo

  • Newark Mayor Cory Booker

  • Former Vice President Al Gore

    This week, our nation has anxiously watched as Hurricane Sandy lashed the East Coast and caused widespread damage--affecting millions. Now more than ever, our neighbors need our help. Please consider donating or volunteering for your local aid organizations. The images of Sandy’s flooding brought back memories of a similar--albeit smaller scale-- event in Nashville just two years ago. There, unprecedented rainfall caused widespread flooding, wreaking havoc and submerging sections of my hometown. For me, the Nashville flood was a milestone. For many, Hurricane Sandy may prove to be a similar event: a time when the climate crisis—which is often sequestered to the far reaches of our everyday awareness became a reality. While the storm that drenched Nashville was not a tropical cyclone like Hurricane Sandy, both storms were strengthened by the climate crisis. Scientists tell us that by continually dumping 90 million tons of global warming pollution into the atmosphere every single day, we are altering the environment in which all storms develop. As the oceans and atmosphere continue to warm, storms are becoming more energetic and powerful. Hurricane Sandy, and the Nashville flood, were reminders of just that. Other climate-related catastrophes around the world have carried the same message to hundreds of millions. Sandy was also affected by other symptoms of the climate crisis. As the hurricane approached the East Coast, it gathered strength from abnormally warm coastal waters. At the same time, Sandy's storm surge was worsened by a century of sea level rise. Scientists tell us that if we do not reduce our emissions, these problems will only grow worse. Hurricane Sandy is a disturbing sign of things to come. We must heed this warning and act quickly to solve the climate crisis. Dirty energy makes dirty weather.

  • Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.)

  • House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)

    "Our thoughts and prayers rest with the families, friends, and loved ones of all those who have lost their lives in the course of Hurricane Sandy, and our hearts go out to the millions of Americans waking up to destruction and devastation in their homes and communities today. "We are all grateful to the rescue workers and first responders working around-the-clock to save lives, restore power, and deal with the immediate aftermath of the storm. Federal, state, and local authorities have worked hand-in-hand to prepare for and respond to this natural disaster, and we will continue to do so as Americans begin to take stock of the damage, recover, and rebuild. "All Members of Congress stand ready to offer our aid and assistance to communities affected by Hurricane Sandy. As we have done in the past, the American people will stand united to confront the impact of this storm and start the work of recovery."

  • Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.)

  • Sen. David Vitter (R-La.)

  • Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.)

  • Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.)

  • Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.)

  • Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.)

  • Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.)

  • Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.)

  • Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.)

  • Rep. Steve Austria (R-Ohio)

  • Former Rep. Tom Perriello (D-Va.)

  • Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.)

    “Hurricane Sandy hit New York and the Northeast hard last night and will complicate life in our region for the coming days. I am astounded at what I have seen in my own congressional district: flooding throughout Coney Island, Battery Park City, and other areas; widespread power outages; felled trees everywhere you look; and some very tragic fatalities. I am grateful to our local responders and laborers, who are doing a tremendous job on emergency response. And, through the President’s declaration of New York as a major disaster area, we will be able to immediately allocate FEMA funds to begin to repair the billions of dollars in damage locally and bring relief to New Yorkers whose lives have been turned upside down.”