Today the Center for Climate Change Communication, George Mason University released the first report from their latest national survey of the American public completed in November 2011. This time around, they zeroed in on public support for climate and energy solutions—policies with the potential to get our sputtering economy off the fossil fuel roller coaster for real.

The report, Public Support for Climate & Energy Policies in November 2011, finds that “public support for a variety of climate change and energy policies remains high, across party lines.” And even though we haven’t hit the all-time highs of 2008, the numbers remain promising. The word “remain” is key here because most of these findings have been largely steady for the last several years.

What’s new here is that the study also finds that a majority of Americans support a revenue neutral carbon tax if it’s designed in certain ways. As usual, they oppose subsidies for the fossil fuel and ethanol industries.

The big takeaway: The American public supports all kinds of climate and energy policies—even if they cost us something. The big question that inevitably arises: Why aren’t our leaders following the public’s lead?Here is the alert email that came from the Center for Climate Change Communication this morning, pretty much word for word—with a few comments and some emphasis added:

Americans have been saying that they prioritize climate and energy solutions for years. These numbers are holding steady:

  • 70 percent of Americans say global warming should be a very high (12%), high (25%), or medium (33%) priority for the president and Congress, including 44 percent of registered Republicans, 72 percent of Independents and 85 percent of Democrats.
  • 90 percent of Americans say developing sources of clean energy should be a very high (30%), high (35%), or medium (25%) priority for the president and Congress, including 82 percent of registered Republicans, 91 percent of Independents, and 97 percent of Democrats.
  • 54 percent of Americans say that a candidate’s views on global warming will be either the “single most important issue” (2%) or “one of several important issues” (52%) in determining their vote for President next year, including 39 percent of registered Republicans, 55 percent of Independents, and 65 percent of Democrats. (It should be noted that the survey question doesn’t specify which candidate views on climate would be a deciding factor for voters.)

This is where it gets interesting. A new battery of questions in this survey asks about what kind of carbon price voters say they’d be more likely to accept:

  • 65 percent of Americans support a revenue neutral carbon tax that would “help create jobs and decrease pollution,” including majorities of registered Republicans (51%), Independents (69%), and Democrats (77%). Note: The number jumps up from 58% to 65% when creating jobs and reducing pollution were added to the wording of the question.
  • Likewise, 60 percent of Americans support a $10 per ton carbon tax if the revenue were used to reduce federal income taxes, even when told this would “slightly increase the cost of many things you buy, including food, clothing, and electricity.” This policy is supported by 48 percent of registered Republicans, 50 percent of Independents, and 74 percent of Democrats.
  • 49 percent of Americans support a revenue neutral carbon tax if the revenue was instead returned to each American family equally as an annual check. Only 44 percent support this policy if the revenues were instead used to pay down the national debt.

It’s worth noting that all these questions in this section about carbon taxes referenced a $10 per ton tax on fuels that produce carbon (coal, oil, natural gas)—explicitly using the word “tax”—and all questions said “gasoline would increase approximately 10 cents a gallon.”

To recap these findings, the least favorite option was a trade-off between higher consumer costs and “an accelerated transition to clean energy” (37% support); next in line was the option where the $10 per ton tax money would go to paying down the national debt (44% support); what was called an “annual check” option was the runner up—where every family got the money from increased costs of goods back each year (49%); and the winner was a tax shift (though it wasn’t called that) where “you would get the money back [from increased cost of things like food, clothing, electricity and gasoline] in the form of lower income taxes.”

This is good stuff. Very promising. Of course, historically, what people say they’re willing to pay is not always indicative of what they are actually willing to pay or vote for when the time comes.

It seems like a no-brainer by now, but it’s worth noting once again that Americans of all political stripes pretty much think that subsidies for the fossil fuel industry stink. They’re not crazy about ethanol subsidies either.

  • 69 percent of Americans oppose federal subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, including 67 percent of registered Republicans, 80 percent of Independents, and 68 percent of Democrats.
  • 54 percent of Americans oppose subsidies to the ethanol industry to make fuel from corn, including 56 percent of registered Republicans, 65 percent of Independents, and 49 percent of Democrats.

Americans show support for other policy solutions too.

  • Public support remains high for regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant (73%), signing an international treaty to cut emissions (66%), and 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 (63%).
  • Since May of 2011, there has been a decline in “strong support” for research into renewable energy sources (-9), tax rebates for people who purchase energy-efficient vehicles or solar panels (-11), and building more nuclear power plants (-5). However, overall public support (strongly and somewhat support) for the first two policies remains high (78% each). Overall public support for nuclear power now stands at 42 percent.

Americans seem pretty ready for action—more ready, by the looks of it, than their elected officials. They also reject the myth that a healthy environment and a healthy economy are at odds:

  • Despite ongoing concerns about the economy, 66 percent of Americans say the US should undertake a large (26%) or medium-scale effort (40%) to reduce global warming, even if it has large or moderate economic costs.
  • 85 percent of Americans (including 76% of registered Republicans, 83% of Independents, and 90% of Democrats) say that protecting the environment either improves economic growth and provides new jobs (54%), or has no effect (31%). Only 15 percent say environmental protection reduces economic growth and costs jobs.

The report includes both overall results and breakdowns of public support by political party. It can be downloaded here: Public Support for Climate & Energy Policies in November 2011.