Yesterday, in response to my article on ‘Taking the Global Warming Paradox With a Grain of Salt‘, Mary, one of the readers of this blog suggested that I take a look at a 2007 joint survey on global warming, from the Nathan Cummings Foundation and the Breakthrough Institute. While discouraging, the results have the benefit of sounding more realistic than other studies, and of providing clear insights into the kind of communication and policy strategies most likely to succeed.
To the question, “Compared to other problems facing our country, tell me if that issue is one of the most important?”, here is where global warming came out:
- War in Iraq 57%
- Rising cost of health care 51%
- Education 51%
- Terrorism 50%
- Covering people who don’t have health insurance 44%
- Moral values 44%
- Social security and Medicare 44%
- American dependence on foreign oil 37%
- Illegal immigration 34%
- Cost of gasoline and electricity 33%
- Job creation and economic growth 31%
- Federal budget deficit 31%
- Quality of the environment 30%
- Crime and violence 30%
- Global warming 28%
- Taxes 25%
To be contrasted with the fact that 70% agree that there is solid evidence of global warming, that it is a big problem, and that government should take immediate action. However they are only willing to support governmental action that does not create any discomfort whatsoever their lives, particularly in regards to their pocket book:
Policies that would gather highest support:
- Making clean energy sources cost less 68%
- Funding massive federal research and development to develop cleantech 56%
- Requiring American industries to reduce their carbon emissions 51%
Policies that would gather lowest support:
- Auctioning off the right to emit carbon pay for the right to pollute 9%
- Abolishing payroll tax and replacing it with a tax on carbon emissions 11%
- Establishing a carbon tax on electricity, gasoline and other products 13%
- Making energy sources that pollute – gasoline, home heating oil, coal – cost more 18%
- Requiring American consumers to reduce their carbon emissions 37%
- Making businesses that emit pay for the right to pollute 38%
More findings from the Nathan Cummings research:
The poll also divided the sample to observe the effects of various psychological primes on global warming public opinion, including using specific consequences of global warming expressed by the environmental community such as the movie An Inconvenient Truth. Telling voters about these consequences did not increase their desire to take action on global warming . . . scaring people is not the way to get them to act.
Finally, the poll tested public support for a variety of global warming policy prescriptions. Voters expressed initial support for a variety of potential government actions, with support for an Apollo-type investment strategy scoring highest. However, when told of the potential costs of those programs, support dropped precipitously, with only the Apollo-type investment proposal retaining support from a majority of voters.
The investment-centered New Apollo program received more support than either Cap-and-Trade or Sky Trust proposals. Additionally, when voters were told of the negative consequences of each program (cost of energy for Cap-and-Trade and Sky Trust; tax and deficit implications of Apollo type investments), Apollo was the only program to maintain majority support of the electorate (54%). Support for a Cap-and-Trade program fell from 62% to 46% when voters were told of the potential impact on energy prices.
Global warming proposals that can be framed as increasing the cost of gasoline and electricity will likely trigger tremendous backlash from an anxious electorate. The key to passing substantive limits on carbon emissions is to couple those limits with specific policies to make clean energy cheaper.
This research leads to some rather chilling conclusions:
People know about global warming and what it means in terms of global consequences. Still they do not consider it as a personal or policy priority. They see it as a problem to be dealt with by government, and only in policies that will not result in them having to make any personal sacrifices, particularly of a financial nature. They seem to think that the problem will take care of itself, in the form of technology, and smart, no pain – all gain, energy policies.
I look at these conclusions, and I ponder other world’s grim facts such as India’s Tata Nano future, China’s threat of ‘no longer just one child policy‘, and China’s support of always more coal plants. And I get depressed, and very, very concerned about the future of our species. Mostly, I am mad at my fellow Americans for being so short-sighted. Don’t they realize that the world is looking up to them to lead the way. How can we keep going with our oil and gas orgy, and expect other countries to show self-restraint. As mean as that may seem, I do hope for a recession, and peak oil to slap my fellow Americans at the gas tank and in their wallets. If not by morality and reason, maybe they will be led by necessity?