Americans Want Action on Climate Change

Survey shows Americans think U.S. should make action on climate change a top priorityEditor’s note: This post originally published in Richard’s blog “The Green Market” and is republished here with his permission

According to a new Yale survey, the vast majority of Americans now believe addressing global warming should be a top priority for Congress and the Obama administration. The survey indicated that 71 percent of Americans now think that tackling climate change should be high on the agenda. This is a marked improvement over previous years when it was not considered a high priority.

Support for clean energy is almost unanimous with 91 percent of Americans saying that “developing sources of clean energy should be a very high (32%), high (35%), or medium (24%) priority for the president and Congress, including 97 percent of Democrats, 89 percent of Independents, and 85 percent of Republicans.”

Americans want their government to invest in the effort to curb global warming. Despite ongoing concerns about the economy, 67 percent of Americans say the US should undertake a large (29%) or medium-scale effort (38%) to reduce global warming, even if it has large or moderate economic costs. These results could be interpreted as support for ending oil subsidies.

The business community should also take note as 65 percent of Americans want more action to address global warming from corporations. Their is a growing awareness of the relationship between the environment the economy and jobs. 82 percent of Americans (including 94% of Democrats, 74% of Independents, and 76% of Republicans) say that protecting the environment either improves economic growth and provides new jobs (56%), or has no effect (26%). Only 18 percent say environmental protection reduces economic growth and costs jobs.

Americans indicate the want more renewable energy even if it costs more. The study indicates that 68 percent of Americans support requiring electric utilities to produce at least 20 percent of their electricity from renewable energy sources, even if it costs the average household an extra $100 a year, including 82 percent of Democrats, 64 percent of Independents, and 58 percent of Republicans.

The study shows that Americans support more research funding as indicated by the fact that 84 percent of Americans support funding more research into renewable energy sources, including 90 percent of Democrats, 81 percent of Independents, and 81 percent of Republicans.

More than half of Americans want to see more action from Congress to address global warming. This should cause Republican lawmakers who frown on support for renewable energy to take note as their ongoing obstructionism could prove politically fatal.

With the exception of the finding that 68 percent of Americans want more gas and oil drilling, this is a very positive report for the environment. This survey breathes new hope into the possibility of passing US energy and climate change legislation.

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Richard Matthews
Richard Matthews
Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, sustainable investor, and writer. He is the owner of THE GREEN MARKET, one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. He is also the author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, green investing, enviro-politics, and eco-economics.

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  1. I am somewhat surprised at the conclusion of this post. If you read the survey with a little honesty, the picture that you get is somewhat dis-heartening. The number of Americans responding appropriately (from a GW point of view) to all the major questions has decreased from 2008 to 2011:

    Q154. Do you think global warming should be a low, medium, high, or very high priority for the president and Congress? It went from 84% (vh, h, m) to 71%
    Q162-168. Do you think each of the following should be doing more or less to address global warming? In all cases the percentage of Americans who thinks various institutions should increase their efforts to fight global warming has decreased since 2008. This includes personal involvement which went from 72% (more or much more) to 63%. A substantial decrease in less than 3years.

    The economic sacrifices that Americans are ready to make are also very limited. While a majority (66%) is ready to pay $100/yr more to have 20% clean energy, this is a lower percentage than in 2008 (72%). Other surveys show that if the amount to be paid goes up to $700/yr, only a slim minority is ready to do that.

    Support for international collaboration to reduce emissions is similarly down, together with the US taking unilateral action (67 vs.61)

    The only bright spot in the whole survey seems to be the awareness that we need to develop renewable energy (91%) coupled with some dis-illusion with new drilling which went from 75% in 2008 to 66% in 2011. This is, however, tempered by the decrease in support for research into renewable energy sources which went from 92% in 2008 to 84% in 2011.

    To conclude, it you think this is a promising survey, you must have seen in it something that has completely escaped to me. My conclusion is that Americans are still, if not increasingly, confused and poorly informed about global warming. This inevitably will hurt us, unless we act strongly to increase our understanding of the problem and push our politicians to act on it.

  2. Thank you for your comment Stefano. While I understand the point you are making, your analysis does not include the results from the January and June surveys of 2010. For many of the questions, the 2011 results were an improvement over the 2010 results. In 2010 support for efforts to manage climate change declined compared to 2008 results. I think we can explain the 2008 results by the fact that Republicans and corporate entities beholden to the old oil industry had not yet succeeded in misinforming the public and the effects of the recession had not yet hit Americans. Despite the misinformation and concerns about the economy, results show that in 2011 Americans are trending in the right direction as compared to the 2010 results.

    For example Q173 illustrates this point with the 2010 numbers showing a marked decline while the 2011 numbers are moving in the right direction.

    How much do you support or oppose requiring electric utilities to produce at least 20% oftheir electricity from wind, solar, or other renewable energy sources, even if it cost the average household an extra $100 a year?

    May 2011 June 2010 Jan 2010 Nov 2008
    Strongly support 23 22 18 31
    Somewhat support 43 39 40 41
    Somewhat oppose 18 22 21 17
    Strongly oppose 16 18 21 11

    The questions that ask about whether Americans should be doing more or less to address global warming (Q162-168) show an improvement between 2010 and 2011. For all of the seven questions those who want to see “More” done to manage global warming increased across the board.

    Q162-168. Do you think each of the following should be doing more or less to address globalwarming?

    Your local government officials

    May 2011 June 2010 Jan 2010 Nov 2008
    Much more 13 14 12 13
    More 39 36 34 45
    Currently doing the right amount 28 36 35 29
    Less 9 8 8 7
    Much less 10 7 10 6

    Your state legislators

    May 2011 June 2010 Jan 2010 Nov 2008
    Much more 15 15 14 16
    More 39 36 36 47
    Currently doing the right amount 26 33 30 25
    Less 10 8 10 6
    Much less 10 8 10 6

    Your governor

    May 2011 June 2010 Jan 2010 Nov 2008
    Much more 16 16 15 16
    More 38 35 34 46
    Currently doing the right amount 27 33 30 26
    Less 9 9 10 6
    Much less 10 8 11 6

    The U.S. Congress

    May 2011 June 2010 Jan 2010 Nov 2008
    Much more 19 19 19 26
    More 38 35 35 41
    Currently doing the right amount 20 26 23 20
    Less 11 10 10 6
    Much less 12 9 15 7

    The President

    May 2011* June 2010* Jan 2010* Nov 2008+
    Much more 19 20 17 28
    More 35 32 33 38
    Currently doing the right amount 22 30 26 21
    Less 10 9 9 6
    Much less 14 10 15 7
    *President Barack Obama
    +President George W. Bush

    Corporations and industry

    May 2011 June 2010 Jan 2010 Nov 2008
    Much more 34 38 33 41
    More 31 28 31 32
    Currently doing the right amount 18 22 21 17
    Less 8 7 7 5
    Much less 9 6 9 6

    Citizens themselves
    May 2011 June 2010 Jan 2010 Nov 2008
    Much more 28 31 27 30
    More 35 33 36 42
    Currently doing the right amount 21 24 23 20
    Less 9 7 7 5
    Much less 7 5 8 5

  3. Very interesting post. While the global warming debate will likely rage on for all of time, there’s no denying that those passionate about it will continue to spread its message. I recently wrote a novel, Battered Earth, heavily influenced by global warming. It’s hard to ignore all the recent tornadoes, floods and other incidences of extreme weather that have created so much devastation and heartache, and not stop and consider the role of global warming.


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