Energy policymakers should heed the results of a survey released last week by the University of Stanford: a surprising majority of Americans across the political and geographical board are hungry for action on climate change.
A new analysis of 21 scientific surveys reflecting public opinions in 46 states showed that a large majority of Americans now believe that global warming is manmade and that the government should reign in greenhouse gas emissions—especially at power plants.
“Majorities in every state surveyed said the government should limit greenhouse gas emissions” and “in particular, by power plants.” This includes eastern coal states like ours, Pennsylvania, as well as Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Michigan. The story is the same in states like Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, and South Carolina.
This is big news for policymakers, especially for those seeking to be or to remain elected as policymakers. New coalitions are forming; there is no Red State-vs.-Blue State or geographical divides on this issue any more.
The study was conducted by Stanford University’s Jon Krosnick and his colleague, Visiting Scholar Bo MacInnis. Their findings were presented to the congressional Bicameral Task Force on Climate Change in Washington, D.C. on November 13. (Read more from them here.)
Krosnick says he often hears legislators declare that there is divided opinion about climate change, and that many constituents are still skeptical it exists. But those officials, he says, are basing their opinions on ad hoc constituent phone calls and emails. As anyone who has been in politics knows, it is always dangerous for an elected official to draw opinions or conclusions based solely on those forms of outreach. Indeed, Krosnick’s empirical findings show that large majorities of base constituencies across the board feel differently—and they want action.
Krosnick’s data is not just an anomaly. A 2012 nationwide poll found that 87% of registered Democrats polled believed that global warming was happening, and so did 53% of Republicans. (www.businessweek.com/news/2012-07-18/record-heat-wave-pushes-u-dot-s-dot-belief-in-climate-change-to-70-percent.) While the Democrat numbers were unsurprisingly higher, the bottom line is that a majority of Republicans are in tune with doing something about carbon emissions.
Big investors are mirroring the citizen concern—no surprise since investors, whether individuals, pension funds, or mutual funds, are made up of folks like you and me: citizens. In October, a coalition of 70 global investors with $3 trillion in funds called on the world’s largest carbon emitters to assess risks under climate action and “business as usual” scenarios. That initiative, dubbed Carbon Asset Risk (“CAR”), was coordinated by Ceres and the Carbon Tracker Initiative, with support from the Global Investor Coalition on Climate Change. (www.ceres.org/press/press-releases/investors-ask-fossil-fuel-companies-to-assess-how-business-plans-fare-in-low-carbon-future.)
Americans have some pretty concrete notions on how we should be dealing with this issue. For example, they would welcome government efforts to curb emissions from power plants. Wide majorities also favor market-based solutions like a cap and trade. A price on carbon would be a similar market-based measure. A recent report by the CDP shows that businesses, including big oil and energy companies, are already there. They are planning on a price for carbon and they see no disruption to the economy if one were established by a regulatory regime.
Indeed, market-based mechanisms such as RGGI (Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative) carbon auctions have been up and running quite successfully in the Northeastern United States since 2008, raising many millions of dollars for participating states’ coffers to boot. With the EPA’s blueprint for states to choose how they will control emissions from existing power plants coming down the pike next year, we may now have the perfect match of citizen, investor, and business will to make these market-based mechanisms work.