John E. Amos Coal Power PlantIt turns out that most Americans are not sure what a cap and trade program is. In a Pew Research News IQ Quiz , less than a quarter (23 percent) of the American public was able to identify cap and trade legislation as dealing with energy and the environment (11 percent said it dealt with health care, 13 percent banking reform and roughly half admitted they did not know). This boggles the minds of folks like us at Sightline who’ve been living and breathing cap and trade policy for several years now. But it’s a good reality check for the wonk set.

Again, despite our efforts to get the word out about smart climate and energy policy, in a different Pew Research survey, just 14 percent said they had heard a lot about cap and trade; a majority reported hearing nothing at all.

However, when such a program is described to Americans, it receives support.

It turns out, you don’t have to “get it” to love it…or at least to be in favor.

Half of the public—a solid number—favors setting limits on carbon dioxide emissions and making companies pay for their emissions, even if it may mean higher energy prices, while only 39 percent are opposed and 11 percent unsure.

So, the question is: Are we simply explaining cap and trade poorly, or not often and loudly enough, or should we just start saying what it does, rather than trying to explain how it works?


Image: John E. Amos coal Power Plant, courtesy Wigwam Jones,