Americans now rank climate change as the country's most pressing environmental concern, a new survey reveals.

This is a dramatic shift from just three years ago, when climate change ranked only sixth out of 10 environmental problems.

"While terrorism and the war in Iraq are the main issues of national concern, there's been a remarkable increase in the American public's recognition of global warming and their willingness to do something about it," said Stephen Ansolabehere, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology political scientist who conducted the survey.

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The findings are the result of two surveys, one conducted in September 2003 and the other in September 2006.

Each survey asked separate groups of 1,200 people 20 questions that focused on the environment, global warming and technologies that could help mitigate climate change.

Results showed that while environmental problems still rank in the middle of the list of "most important issues facing the U.S. today," global warming has now moved up the list of environmental concerns.

In 2003, participants ranked ecosystem destruction, water pollution and toxic waste as higher priorities.

Nearly three-quarters of the survey respondents felt that the government should take more action to deal with global warming.

Participants in the survey were also more willing to spend their own money to help solve the problem.

In 2003, people said they would spend $14 more per month on their electricity bill to help mitigate climate change; the amount increased to $21 in 2006.

"People want not a little bit more spent but rather a lot more spent to solve this problem - and they're willing to pay," said Howard Herzog, principal research engineer in MIT's Laboratory for Energy and the Environment, who helped conduct the study.

Another recent poll by the National Wildlife Federation also found that within the last two years, more Americans were convinced that global warming was happening.

While people ranked climate change as a higher priority, their understanding of much of the science involved with the problem and the ways to mitigate it (including wind and solar power, increased efficiency, nuclear power, and carbon sequestration) has changed little.

"It's not that people have learned something fundamental about the science, but they've come to understand that this problem is real," Ansolabehere said. "It takes a prolonged discussion of a complex topic like this really to move public concern, and what's happened over the past three years has got to continue."

The researchers plan to look at the survey results for any relationship between the answers and demographic characteristics, like socioeconomic status, political affiliation and geography, of the respondents.

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