A new report finds strong support for clean energy, international climate agreements, and cutting carbon pollution – across the political spectrum
It’s almost an accepted dogma that in the United States (and in several other countries), liberals are much more in favor of taking actions to curb climate change whereas conservatives block such actions. That’s certainly true within the halls of power. For instance, in the United States, it has become a litmus test for Republication candidates to deny humans are causing climate change, to try to claim that it isn’t important, in many cases to demonize the messengers (the scientists), and to work to halt climate science so we won’t know how bad the problem is.
Conventional wisdom – and in fact the seemingly obvious message from this past election – is that this denial is good politics. If you want to get elected as a conservative, you have got to be anti-science.
But perhaps what we thought was so just isn’t. A fascinating study was just released by Yale and George Mason Universities that involved a national survey of American opinions. What this survey found was astonishing. Almost 70% of registered voters in the U.S. believe that their country should participate in international agreements to limit global warming. Only 1 in 8 registered voters believe the U.S. should not participate in such agreements. Similarly, 70% of respondents support limits on carbon dioxide, the most important human-emitted heat trapping gas.
Moreover, they agree to limits even if that means electricity costs will increase (although they won’t). What this means is that 7 in 10 registered voters agree with President Obama’s signature climate accomplishment, the Clean Power Plan. When considered by party affiliation, the responses were 85% for Democrats, 62% for Independents, and 52% for Republicans. Yes, even among Republicans, whose elected officials systematically mock science, the majority of voters are in agreement about the importance of taking climate change seriously.
Amongst the respondents, more than 80% agreed that if a carbon tax is imposed, the revenues should be used to improve U.S. infrastructure, and large majorities support using the funds to help displaced fossil fuel workers or reducing the national debt.
A deeper dive into the results reveals that American voters are more knowledgeable about energy and the energy economy than is the president elect. They recognize the connection between the new clean energy economy and their own country’s economic vitality.
More than half of voters understand that transitioning to newer and cleaner fuels will improve economic growth and create new jobs – something we are already seeing. A small minority believe that transitioning to a clean-energy system will hurt the economy. Furthermore, a majority support exploring clean and renewable energy on public lands by a very large margin compared with those who support more fossil fuel extraction on those same lands.
The architects of this survey are the best of the best in this business. Dr. Anthony Leiserowitz and Dr. Ed Maibach are very well known in this area. They were joined by a talented team of colleagues from George Mason University and Yale University. I wrote to the authors and they responded:
A large majority of Americans want our nation to step up and do its part to limit climate change, and nearly all Americans understand that a clean energy economy is our destiny.
The single most surprising thing we learned in this survey was that 8 out of 10 Americans want our nation to limit global warming pollution by regulating it, taxing it, or both, while only 1 out of ten prefer for the United States to take neither action.
It’s interesting that over the past eight years, we have seen enormous drops in the cost of renewable energy, particularly wind and solar. Now, these energy sources are economically competitive with fossil fuels. We have also seen a major reduction of cost in all forms of energy. It’s an environment that should hurt renewables. With petroleum, natural gas, and coal in such abundance, you would think solar and wind would suffer. But they haven’t.
And the U.S. consumer hasn’t suffered. Prices for energy are low, this leaves more money in peoples’ pockets at the end of the month. But along with this, the U.S. has reduced emissions. It’s exciting to have a comprehensive energy plan that works. Lower costs, lower emissions, more clean energy.
It would be interesting to look forward four years to see if this trend continues. I hope it does, but the incoming transition team has been hostile to a rational energy plan. If we go backwards on the energy economy, it will hurt the environment as well as the economy. It would be ironic if the very people who voted for President-elect Trump were the ones most hurt by such a turn of events.