Where Americans (Mostly) Agree on Climate Change Policies
Americans are politically divided over climate change, but there’s broader consensus around some of the solutions.Posted — Updated
Americans are politically divided over climate change, but there’s broader consensus around some of the solutions.
New data from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication — in partnership with Utah State University and the University of California, Santa Barbara — show how Americans across the country view climate and energy policies.
A majority of Americans in almost every county support requiring electric utilities to produce at least 20 percent of their power from wind, solar and other renewable sources. Currently, more than two dozen states — including Hawaii, Texas and New York — have some sort of renewable energy requirement on their books, although many fall short of the 20 percent mark.
Americans also overwhelmingly support funding research into renewable energy (nationally, 85 percent say they are in favor) and providing consumers with energy-saving tax incentives (82 percent say the same), according to Yale’s data.
Support for wind and solar energy cuts across political divides, said Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, because it’s not “about climate change per se.”
“Maybe you support renewable energy because it’s cheaper, because it’s cleaner, or because it’s better for human health,” he said. “Maybe you support it because it lessens our dependence on fossil fuels and aids our push for energy independence.”
Broad support for renewables has been found by other surveys, including one released this year by Pew Research Center, which called the strong national support for expanding solar and wind power “a rare point of bipartisan consensus in how the U.S. views energy policies.”
The geography of support for expanding offshore drilling looks more political. Counties that voted Republican in the 2016 presidential election generally view offshore drilling more favorably in Yale’s model than Democratic areas do.
The idea is popular along the Gulf Coast of Texas and Louisiana, a major offshore drilling hub. Counties along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts tend to be less enthusiastic.
Last year, the Trump administration moved to open up nearly all U.S. waters to drilling, but governors from many coastal states raised concerns.
Ryan Zinke, secretary of the interior, announced that Florida would be exempt from the administration’s plan after meeting with the state’s Republican governor, Rick Scott. In defending his decision, Zinke cited widespread political opposition in Florida and a ban on drilling in state waters. Governors from South Carolina, New Jersey, Oregon, California and more than half a dozen other states requested similar exemptions. New Jersey and California took action to block offshore drilling in state waters, too.
While many Americans want more drilling in general, most agree that certain areas should be protected from extraction. When asked whether they supported opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for drilling, for example, most Americans across the country said no.
The Republican-led Congress voted last year to open up the refuge to oil and gas exploration.
The Yale data also shows majority support for a tax on carbon dioxide pollution, with some caveats.
The survey question is worded specifically to explain that revenue from taxing carbon emissions would be used to reduce other taxes, an idea favored by some conservatives. But this may not be the form a carbon tax proposal takes in the real world.
A real-world policy debate over carbon pricing “will mean all of a sudden millions of dollars of pro- and con- advertising will get thrown at it, and politicians will support or savage the proposal,” Leiserowitz said. “How that influences public opinion is a different question.”
On Tuesday, voters in Washington state will decide whether to approve the country’s first fee on carbon emissions. The state’s proposal would use revenue to support clean energy and infrastructure projects, among other environmental concerns.
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County-level opinion data are estimates based on survey responses from more than 22,000 American adults (age 25 and older) collected between 2008 and 2018.
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