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A new Salt Lake Tribune poll suggests that Utahns see global warming as a political issue, but reducing energy consumption as a practical matter.

The survey of 625 registered voters shows a split, with 46 percent believing global warming is scientifically established and 45 percent seeing it as unproven.

Meanwhile, respondents heartily agree that all levels of government should do more to reduce energy consumption (85 percent) and that less energy use will help the environment (75 percent).

Laura Nelson, Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.'s energy adviser, sees "a disconnect" in the responses.

"Simply put, I think people realize their energy usage does impact the environment," she said. "But some people don't realize that climate change is an environmental issue."

Washington, D.C.-based Mason-Dixon Polling & Research conducted the poll for The Tribune from Tuesday through Thursday. It has a margin of error of 4 percent.

The poll results were grouped according to gender, age, religion and political affiliation. And, for all three questions, the strongest areas of disagreement generally fell along political lines.

For instance, 68 percent of Democrats hold the view that climate change is proven, while 55 percent of independents and just 35 percent of Republicans are persuaded.

While the poll shows that Utahns of all political stripes concur that "all levels" of government should do more to reduce energy consumption, 93 percent of Democrats hold that view.

That compares with still 84 percent of Republicans and 83 percent of independents.

Smaller majorities of Republicans and independents believe in the environmental value of reducing energy consumption. Eighty-seven percent of Democrats told surveyors less energy use would significantly benefit the environment, while 69 percent of Republicans and 71 percent of independents agreed it would help.

University of Utah geophysicist David Chapman found the poll results striking because they show people do not link their energy use and climate change.

He noted that a broad consensus of climate scientists agree that climate change has accelerated in the past 150 years, thanks to the use of fossil fuels by humans.

Most of the increase in global warming gasses, he noted, has come from burning fossil fuels to power vehicles and industry, and for heating and cooling.

"End of debate," said Chapman, who uses bore holes to track temperature changes in the past few hundred years. "Now the question is: what do we do about it?"

Like Chapman, Julia Corbett said that politics has apparently distracted the public from figuring out how to deal with global warming. An associate professor of communications at the U., she said the message about climate change is not getting out.

"I'm surprised the split on the global warming question is so even," she said.

Utah State University political scientist Michael Lyons noted that environmentalists and Democrats have been aligned with climate change, so it is not surprising that Republicans have so much skepticism about the issue.

"It shouldn't come as much of a surprise that people aren't paying much attention to science," he added, noting that has been a long-studied trend in political polling.

Lyons also noted that the support for reducing energy may not be as strong in reality as it is in theory.

He noted that people often back such abstract notions as cutting energy use - until they see up close how they might be called upon to sacrifice.

The political divide over climate change came into focus vividly in Utah last spring when U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch called global warming "science fiction." The Utah Republican's remark led to a flurry of scornful letters to the editor.

Richard Teerlink, a high school biology teacher in Salt Lake City wrote: "If Sen. Orrin Hatch were my student, I would have to flunk him for science literacy."

And, the political split surfaced more recently with the release of former Vice President Al Gore's movie on climate change, "An Inconvenient Truth."

The response to climate change in Utah follows a similar trend seen nationally: individuals, local government and state government are taking the initiative despite skepticism at the national level.

The city governments of Salt Lake City, Park City and Moab all have been recognized for programs to cut greenhouse gasses that contribute to climate change and to save energy.

And, on Friday, a task force of business, government and interest groups gathered for the first time as the governor's Advisory Council on Climate Change.