Climate Change Policy Poll

by Richard T. Stuebi

I’ve written before that I’m very skeptical of polls. It seems to me that poll respondents give themselves far too much credit for being well-informed or magnanimous, relative to what they actually know or what will they will do when making real decisions that really affect them. Accordingly, I’m always bothered when pundits use poll results as a basis for what policy ought to be.

However, this past summer, a poll conducted and reported by New Scientist magazine did seem to shed some useful insights that policy-makers ought to consider.

The reported highlights of the survey were that there was substantial public support in the U.S. for carbon limitations, that the public preferred outright standards to cap-and-trade or (egads!) carbon taxes, and that the desired focus of carbon reductions should be on the electric power sector than on vehicles (don’t tread on SUV!).

In my view, the most illuminating finding was the weakness of support for carbon limitations if they induced any significant economic pain. In other words, respondents were fine with climate legislation — as long as it really didn’t cost much. On the other hand, when asked if they would support carbon emission requirements that would increase energy prices significantly — which is likely to be the case to achieve the magnitudes of emission reductions that are widely viewed necessary to have meaningful impact in protecting the planet — support evaporated.

This is one of the few instances where I actually believe what the poll results say, without any bias. I take from this finding that — to avoid catastrophic climate change during the balance of this century — either we need to quickly develop a zero/low baseload carbon energy source that costs essentially no more than conventional coal generation, or that we quickly need to substantially increase U.S. political will and courage to endure economic sacrifice. Either will be tremendously challenging. Failing on both counts could doom the planet.

Richard T. Stuebi is the BP Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is also the Founder and President of NextWave Energy, Inc.

3 replies
  1. Tom Konrad
    Tom Konrad says:

    Or, we can continue to make clear to people that the savings from increased energy efficiency measures can not only pay for the needed energy efficiency, but for the renewable energy we need as well.For example, the increase in monthly costs for a Built Green home, when wrapped into a mortgage, are lower than the cost of the energy saved. It’s free money, the key is convincing people that it’s there, and that it’s worth tackling intrenched interests to take advantage of it.

  2. soshann
    soshann says:

    In Australia we are in the middle of an election campaign wherein the only significant difference between Tweedle Dum & Tweedle Dumber is the cigarette paper you can insert between thyem on climate change. We've prepared this dramatisation of the consequences of our PM John Howard's position.Come along to the BBQ Stopper of a life time.Meet Ernie & Sheila and all the gang and marvel at their radioactive antics around the gene pool . tell all your friends family and work mates to come to the party EVERYONE's WELCOME!

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