Now that former Vice President Al Gore has won a Nobel Peace Prize for raising awareness of global warming, expect Utahns to pay even more attention to the controversial topic — and to Gore himself.
"He's becoming one of the most credible Democrats," longtime Utah pollster Dan Jones said of Gore, who won the popular vote but ultimately lost the 2000 presidential race to President Bush.
Gore's Oscar-winning 2006 documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth," and his other efforts to warn the world of the threat of human-caused climate change have helped convince a majority of Utahns that the problem is real, said Jones.
A Dan Jones & Associates poll for the Deseret Morning News in June found that more than two-thirds of Utahns polled statewide believed that global warming exists, and 84 percent of them said humans were responsible for it.
"Utahns are very reluctant to accept new theories like that," Jones said, crediting some of that acceptance to Gore's ability to articulate the issue. "I do believe that people are now starting to look at things differently and change some of their behavior."
On Wednesday, Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.'s Blue Ribbon Advisory Council on Climate Change released recommendations that included developing renewable energy sources and implementing an aggressive mass-transit program.
Huntsman has said if Utahns want "to continue to enjoy vibrant economic development, a healthy environment and quality of life," action must be taken to mitigate the impacts of climate change.
The governor's spokeswoman, Lisa Roskelley, said Friday, "We've seen climate change gain recognition on a local and regional level. This award shines a spotlight on the global importance of this issue."
Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson, a longtime environmental activist, said the issue is especially important to Utah, where "we already know that our ski industry is at huge risk because of global warming."
Anderson said the recognition given to Gore and the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change by the Norwegian Nobel Committee "will send an important message to people in this state and around the world about the need for all of us to work productively together and very urgently to meet the challenge."
Marc Heileson, regional representative for the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club, said consensus has been reached on the existence of global warming. "Now, it's what do we do about this, ranging from everything from renewable energy and better transportation policy. Hopefully, our leaders get there."
Some Utah lawmakers, though, said Gore's prize doesn't make any difference.
"I don't know that it changes anything to do with my feelings about global warming. I'm still a strong skeptic," said Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab. "Al Gore and the 'Hollyweird' are probably jumping up and down for joy right now, but I don't buy it. I still think it's a lot of political propaganda."
Noel, who serves on the Legislature's Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment committee, said, "Al Gore has got about as much credibility in Utah as Pee-wee Herman," a television and movie character.
Sen. Darin Peterson, R-Nephi, has also questioned whether humans have any impact on global warming. Peterson marveled that the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to someone who thinks "the environment is more important than people."
Gore has said again in recent weeks he wouldn't jump into the 2008 presidential race, but that hasn't stopped widespread speculation that Friday's peace prize announcement might change his mind.
Jones and other Utah political observers, though, said they don't believe he'll run.
"I think he would be the top Democrat in Utah now if he were running for president," Jones said, which likely would matter only in the state's Feb. 5 presidential primary, since Utah is dominated by the GOP.
Jones, though, said that Gore won't want to hit the campaign and fund-raising trail again. Instead, Gore's endorsement will be sought after by the Democrats in the race and "will mean more than any other Democrat right now," Jones said.