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Published on May 29th, 2013 | by Andrew

14

National Survey: Nearly 90% Of Americans Say Government Should Act On Global Warming, Push Ahead On Clean Energy

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May 29th, 2013 by
 
Climate change continues to be a touchstone issue in US politics, one that casts a harsh, sharp light not only on a bitterly divided, “dysfunctional” US Congress, but on the state of the United States’ system of representative democracy, and even more broadly, on the interface between science and policy.

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Repeated attempts to enact national climate change legislation – whether a revenue-neutral tax on carbon and greenhouse gas emissions, a nationwide emissions cap-and-trade scheme, a national renewable energy portfolio standard (RPS), stricter air pollution and environmental regulations, or higher energy efficiency standards – have all run up against fierce opposition among Congressional representatives, as well as well-funded public relations campaigns from the fossil fuel, utility and other industry lobbies and media agents.

Yet broad public support for climate and clean energy policies continues strong among the US populace. Nearly 90% of Americans (87%) say that global warming and the development of clean energy sources should be priorities for the US president and Congress, according to results from a nationwide survey conducted by 4C – the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication and the Yale Center for Climate Change Communication.

CO2 In The Atmosphere: 400 PPM And Rising

The amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in Earth’s atmosphere – the majority of which results from human burning of fossil fuels – has now topped 400 parts per million (ppm), a “grim” level not seen for millions of years.

Having quickly breached the 350º ppm threshold established by climate scientists as a tipping point heralding an era of “dangerous, irreversible climate change,” the global rise in anthropogenic CO2 emissions continues unabated.

Even a 2ºC rise in global mean temperature could cause catastrophic rises in sea levels of 6-7 meters (23 feet) that could wipe out major cities, such as London, Miami, New York, Shanghai and Tokyo, former Royal Dutch Shell senior executive Ian Dunlop and policy planner and scholar Tapio Kannien recently told attendees at high-level meetings and panel discussions at UN headquarters in New York City earlier this month.

Yet more alarming is that based on current trends we are on track to experience global warming of 4ºC or more, according to the latest research, Dunlop and Kannien pointed out, and that could result in sea level rises of as much as 70 meters (230 feet), not to mention numerous and varied other fundamentally disruptive effects on ecosystems, economies and societies.

Business as Usual: Who’s Going To Bear The Costs?

Clearly, the climate science community believes that when it comes to burning fossil fuels and greenhouse gas emissions, continuing on a “business as usual” course will have disastrous consequences.

We will see atmospheric CO2 concentrations surpass 450 ppm in a matter of decades, which will mean more frequent and intense extreme weather events – including more destructive tropical storms, floods and droughts – and a disruptive, though more gradual longer term shift in regional weather patterns, climate and environmental conditions, Penn State University climate scientist Michael Mann stated in a recent Democracy Now! interview.

“Whether you’re talking about human health, food resources, water resources, national security – across the board, if we continue to burn fossil fuels and elevate greenhouse gas concentrations the cost to society is going to be far greater than any cost of action.”

Eliminating burning of fossil fuels as quickly as possible is seen as imperative if such scenarios are to be avoided. That would essentially entail shutting down the fossil fuel industry – the energy “engine” of the modern, industrial era – and that seems even less likely than successfully enacting US campaign finance, lobbying, banking industry or offshore finance and tax reform.

Nonetheless, “a large majority of Americans (87%, down 5 percentage points since Fall 2012) say the president and the Congress should make developing sources of clean energy a ‘very high’ (26%), ‘high’ (32%), or medium priority (28%). Few say it should be a low priority (12%),” according to 4C and the Yale Center for Climate Change Communications’ report, “Public Support for Climate and Energy Policies in April 2013.”

Also among the report’s highlights:

  • Most Americans (70%, down 7 points since Fall 2012) say global warming should be a “very high” (16%), “high” (26%), or “medium priority” (29%) for the president and Congress. Three in ten (28%) say it should be a low priority.
  • Six in ten Americans (59%) say the U.S. should reduce its own greenhouse gas emissions regardless of what other countries do. Relatively few (10%) say the U.S. should reduce its emissions only if other industrialized and/or developing countries do – and only 6 percent of Americans say the U.S. should not reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Americans say that corporations and industry (70%), citizens themselves (63%), the U.S. Congress (57%), and the President (52%) should be doing more to address global warming.

Moreover, a majority of Americans support:

  • Providing tax rebates for people who purchase energy-efficient vehicles or solar panels (71%)
  • Funding more research into renewable energy sources (70%)
  • Regulating CO2 as a pollutant (68%)
  • Requiring fossil fuel companies to pay a carbon tax and using the money to pay down the national debt (61%)
  • Eliminating all subsidies for the fossil-fuel industry (59%)
  • Expanding offshore drilling for oil and natural gas off the U.S. coast (58%)
  • Requiring electric utilities to produce at least 20% of their electricity from renewable energy sources, even if it costs the average household an extra $100 a year (55%)

Support for some of these policies has fallen over the past few years, the report authors note, however:

  • Half of Americans (50%) have never heard of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport crude oil from the Canada tar sands to Texas. Moreover, few Americans say they are following the issue closely (18%). However, among those Americans who have heard of the Keystone pipeline, about two in three support the project (63%)
  • Asked their level of support for a “revenue neutral tax swap that would reduce the annual taxes paid by all Americans while increasing the amount they pay annually for energy (such as gasoline and electricity) by the same total amount,” fewer than half of Americans say they would support the tax if the money raised from the tax were used to: reduce the federal income tax (45%); reduce the federal payroll tax (44%); give a tax refund to every American household (43%)

This latest report also highlights the divisiveness of climate change and clean energy in US politics:

  • Democrats and Republicans are divided on the extent to which the president and Congress should address global warming and developing clean energy. While six in ten Democrats (59%) say global warming should be a “high” or “very high” priority for President Obama and Congress, far fewer Republicans agree (22%). However, about half of Republicans (52%) say it should be at least a “medium” level priority
  • Similarly, when it comes to the president and Congress making the development of clean energy a priority, a majority of Democrats (69%) say it should be at least a “high” priority, whereas only 43 percent of Republicans agree. However, most Republicans say it should be at least a “medium” priority (81%). The majority of Independents say it should be a “high” or “very high” priority (61%).

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About the Author

I've been reporting and writing on a wide range of topics at the nexus of economics, technology, ecology/environment and society for some five years now. Whether in Asia-Pacific, Europe, the Americas, Africa or the Middle East, issues related to these broad topical areas pose tremendous opportunities, as well as challenges, and define the quality of our lives, as well as our relationship to the natural environment.



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  • Bob_Wallace

    Well, lookie here…

    “In a speech yesterday at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) lauded distributed solar power, called for more R&D funding of clean technologies, and warned that humans are causing climate change.

    The speech was a notable departure from recent GOP rhetoric on clean energy, which has been largely focused on playing up a handful of high-profile bankruptcies and questioning the validity of climate science.”

    and

    “”While the United States has made more gains in reducing the use of carbon than any other industrial country, the National Academies of the U.S. and twelve other countries have warned that human activity has contributed significantly to climate change and global warming,” he said. Alexander then went on to criticize cap-and-trade legislation.

    Alexander also criticized state targets for renewable energy, warning they would put “too much reliance on sources that generate power only intermittently” and take up too much land area. However, he pivoted quickly to his support for distributed solar, which he said shows “great promise.””

    http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/Republican-Senator-Praises-Solar-Warns-of-Human-Caused-Climate-Change

    Of course he’s lying about the US making more gains in carbon reduction than all other countries and renewables taking too much land area, but he’s a Republican.

    It’s hard to move from 100% wrong to 100% right overnight. Let’s celebrate what looks like the change getting underway.

    • Ross

      Certainly hope so. The true conservative thing to do is to serve the interests of the majority of people and businesses making up the economy by unleashing sustainable growth.

  • larzman

    most of the people here seem to be 0bama kool-aid drinkers. Using slanted anecdotal evidence to make judgements is not wise, but it is often used by the liberal media. Climate change has happened for millions of years, getting more of the same is no reason to abandon technology until there is undeniable proof that we a harming the environment in a significant way.

    Solar & wind won’t replace coal for electricity, so where will you draw power from for all the EV’s that people will supposedly be driving in the coming decades? Time for you to think of a true replacement for fossil fuel if you really want to do something for the environment.. Talk is cheap.

  • Bob_Wallace

    I listened to an interesting piece on climate change a few days ago (on This American Life, I think). In it an ex-Republican legislator was interviewed. He’s currently spending his time trying to bring Republican leaders around on climate change.

    He reported that many Republicans in Congress have confided in him that they, personally, understand that climate change is happening and that it is caused by human activity. But they don’t think they can say that publicly because of the reaction they would get from the Republican “base”.

    For those who might not know, the R. base is a fairly small number of very extreme right wing individuals. If Republican Congress members upset their base then they run a significant risk of losing in their party primary election.

    We’ve got a very strange problem in the US. The majority is not making the decisions.

    • Ross
      • Bob_Wallace

        That’s it. Folks might want to download and listen.

        Act 1 -
        Reporter Julia Kumari Drapkin tells the story of Colorado’s State Climatologist, Nolan Doesken. Doesken has long believed that humans are driving climate change, but never connected it to his own life. Even after several years of some of the most devastating weather his state has ever seen, Nolan considered climate change a worry for the future. Then, last year, he watched as his state experienced some of the most extreme weather it ever has. For the first time, Nolan felt like he was looking at what the future would be like where he lives. He felt scared. Julia tells the story of how this has all changed Nolan, and changed what he’s saying to the people of his home state.

        Act 2 -

        Producer Ben Calhoun tells the story of a former Congressional Representative from South Carolina, Bob Inglis. Inglis is a conservative Republican who once doubted climate science. After he looked at the research, he changed his mind, and decided to speak out. In 2010, he was mocked by people in his own party and trounced in by a Tea Party-backed candidate. Since then, Bob has dedicated himself to the issue even more — and he’s now trying to create a conservative coalition for climate change action.

        Act 3 -

        Host Ira Glass tells the story of writer turned activist Bill McKibben. McKibben is trying to reinvent progressive politics when it come to climate change. He’s attempting to create a divestment campaign modeled after the successful campaign against apartheid in South Africa. The campaign is designed recast the discussion of climate change with fossil fuel companies as the villains.

        http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/495/hot-in-my-backyard

      • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

        Woops… should have read below before commenting :P :D

    • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

      I heard that was really good — haven’t listened to it.

      That Bob Inglis?

      “We’ve got a very strange problem in the US. The majority is not making the decisions.” — Ain’t that the conundrum.

      • Bob_Wallace

        I enjoyed the Drapkin piece. I gave insight to how people who have been heavily on the “disbeliever” side are rethinking their position.

        Some people simply see that things are changing with their own eyes. They aren’t the sort to be easily swayed by research coming out of some distant university, but when the weather around them is significantly different than it has been in the past they understand.

        I think the first Arctic sea ice summer melt-out is going to make believers out of a lot of other disbelievers. Almost every adult alive has lived their lives believing that the North Pole was a frozen hunk of ice which would last “forever”. Pictures of the Arctic Ocean free of ice is simply going to be shocking for many.

        I use disbeliever for these folks to separate them from “deniers”, those people who are so entrenched that they care not at all about facts, only defending their beliefs.

  • DavidSG

    Summary: You Americans believe “They” should do something about it but “I” don’t want to pay for it.

    With such an ambivalent populace, little wonder the strong, decisive, vested interests hold sway.

    Just like Australia!

  • Matt

    How could you not have hear of “XL pipeline”?

  • Tami Kennedy

    See where that percentage got the U.S. populace on background checks with the GOP wonder-gov.

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