7 in 10. What number could that be? The number of Americans watching Michael Phelps make Olympic history? Surprisingly, it’s the number of Americans who say they’re trying to shrink their carbon footprint through driving less, conserving electricity, and recycling, according to a new ABC News/Planet Green/Stanford University poll.
When it comes to global warming, 80 percent of American voters across the country believe it’s happening and poses a threat to future generations. 74 percent support the idea of a cap and trade system for carbon emissions; 57 percent say that they would still support a cap and trade system even if it meant a $10 increase in their monthly electricity bill. A third of Americans say that taking unilateral action on global warming would help the US economy. That’s a dead heat with those who say global warming-reducing measures would damage the economy (32 percent).
So, people are starting to see economic potential that’s possible with smart climate policy. In the last few days, the news has been full of articles about Northwest companies and communitiesinvestigatingnew industries like solar and wind.
Surely high energy and gas prices are a major player in these trends towards energy conservation and support for climate policy, and it’s guaranteed that high prices will continue to influence public opinion on the issue. But it looks like it’s not solely centered on oil prices. These numbers suggest that Americans are tying gas prices to broader concerns about energy conservation and global warming:
“A third say they’re taking conservation measures mainly to improve the environment, but a quarter instead say it’s mainly to save money—and more, 41 percent, say it’s for both reasons equally.”
The fact that 71 percent of Americans are altering their habits to curb carbon emissions and energy use will also probably have some bearing on November’s elections. Maybe Paris had it right: the world’s biggest celebrity and the wrinkly white-haired dude better make energy policy a top priority if they want to compete for the White House.
Especially after seeing some of the polling data around drilling (and Sightline’s review of it), I can’t help but question whether all of the above numbers might move significantly were respondants given more context. I’d like to believe that 75% of the public supports cap & trade, but I imagine most people don’t have a firm grasp of what it is, as demonstrated by the drop when the issue of increased prices is thrown in. The problem seems to be endemic to polling generally, according to this New Yorker piece (looking at some landmark research around political views):http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2004/08/30/040830crat_atlarge?currentPage=allWhen pollsters ask people for their opinion about an issue, people generally feel obliged to have one. Their answer is duly recorded, and it becomes a datum in a report on “public opinion.” But, after analyzing the results of surveys conducted over time, in which people tended to give different and randomly inconsistent answers to the same questions, Converse concluded that “very substantial portions of the public” hold opinions that are essentially meaningless—off-the-top-of-the-head responses to questions they have never thought about, derived from no underlying set of principles.
No doubt there are problems with polling, but I think the most significant point of this data set was that 57% would be willing to pay more to support a C system. You’re right, this number would probably drop given an actual imposition of such an increase, but if more than half support it now, there’s hope. It also combats the argument that we shouldn’t approach carbon policies because it is a taboo issue.