Decades of polling analysis by Stanford social psychologist Jon Krosnick and his team reveal some good news. Great news, really—even if it’s way past the reasonable time limit for us to be discussing the “debate” about the science of climate change.
It looks like American climate denial is dying, even in the majority of “red” states. Plus, majorities across this great land are still ready for policy measures to cut carbon pollution. They are even willing to pay to make it happen (within reason). In fact, the American public appears to be far more willing to get going on real and meaningful climate solutions than their elected representatives in Congress.
“To me, the most striking finding that is new today,” Krosnick told the Guardian, “was that we could not find a single state in the country where climate skepticism was in the majority.”
Grist’s John Upton laid out some of the highlights of the study:
- A vast majority of red-state Americans understand that climate change is real. There’s far-reaching acceptance that global warming is caused by human activities, even in such reliably red states as Texas and Oklahoma.
- At least three-quarters of Americans are aware that the climate is changing.
- At least two-thirds want the government to limit greenhouse gas emissions from businesses.
- At least 62 percent want regulations that cut carbon pollution from power plants.
- At least half want the US to take action to fight climate change, even if other countries do not.
So what gives? Why aren’t we jumping on climate solutions, left and right?
There are likely a bunch of different reasons. For one, climate change still doesn’t poll as a top priority for most Americans—it’s bottom, not top of mind, especially in this economy. While there are still majorities in favor of a range of solutions, the numbers aren’t necessarily growing (the biggest majorities were back a few years). Plus, even if research shows that Americans say they are willing to pay to curb global warming (up to $134 a year according to Krosnick’s calculations), depending on how questions are phrased, support usually drops just below 50 percent for climate solutions that involve taxes on electricity or gasoline. Americans like the idea of a price on pollution—where polluters pay for the messes they’re making instead of polluting for free and foisting the costs on us—but are a bit leery when it comes to big federal policy like cap-and-trade or carbon taxes.
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Still, there’s a notable disconnect between public attitudes and the way elected officials are dealing with the issue. The Stanford research summary spells it out (emphasis mine):
We have seen through these surveys that contrary to expectations, Americans support many of the energy policies that have been discussed over the years and are willing to pay some amount to have them enacted. This runs contrary to the idea that the reason why congress is not enacting these policies is because there is not public support and that the public would be unwilling to pay. It is unfair to blame the public for the lack of policies enacted by the federal government on these issues. Why has legislation action been so limited with regard to reduction of greenhouse gas emissions? Two possibilities include that legislators have decided to ignore their constituents or that they are simply unaware of the public consensus on these issues.
The Guardian illustrates how this disconnect is playing out:
Congressman Joe Barton of Texas and Senator Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma stand out for their regular denials of climate change as a “hoax,” even among Republican ranks.
However, the research found 87 percent of Oklahomans and 84 percent of Texans accepted that climate change was occurring.
Seventy-six percent of Americans in both states also believed the government should step in to limit greenhouse gas emissions produced by industry.
And it’s not just understanding of the problem where red state voters outpace their elected officials. Nearly 80 percent of voters in Texas, for example, support solutions like regulation of power plants.
And it ain’t just Texas. Some 58 percent of Republicans in the current Congress deny the existence of climate change or oppose action to cut greenhouse gas emissions, according to an analysis by the Center for American Progress. The numbers of deniers in science, energy, and environmental leadership positions are even more sobering:
- 90 percent of the Republican leadership in both House and Senate deny climate change.
- 17 out of 22 Republican members of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, or 77 percent, deny climate change is real.
- 22 out of 30 Republican members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, or 73 percent deny the reality of climate change.
- 100 percent of Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Republicans have said climate change is not happening or that humans do not cause it.
It certainly doesn’t help that 161 elected representatives from the 113th Congress have taken over $54 million from the fossil fuel industry, the same industry that lobbies hard against forward-thinking climate and energy policies and funds campaigns to confuse the public.
In the face of all this, the voices of elected officials who do represent the attitudes of the American public when it comes to climate change are like a breath of fresh air. Here’s Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), one of the co-chairs of a congressional climate change task force:
These polls are further proof that the American people are awake to the threat of climate change, and have not been taken in by the polluting industries’ conspiracy of denial. Now it’s time for Congress to wake up and face the facts: climate change is real; it is hurting our people, our economy, and our planet; and we have to do something about it.
And to round out the message, Henry Waxman (D-CA), task force co-chair, added: “Americans recognize that we have a moral obligation to protect the environment and an economic opportunity to develop the clean energy technologies of the future.”