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Americans support greenhouse gas regulation even if it could “substantially” raise energy prices

By Joe Romm on April 30, 2009 at 6:40 pm

"Americans support greenhouse gas regulation even if it could “substantially” raise energy prices"

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A bunch of polls have come out that find the public supports strong climate action in spite of aggressive and widespread Republican fear-mongering about energy prices.

For instance, the new Washington Post/ABC poll of 1,072 Americans (here) found:

While majorities across the board support government regulation of greenhouse gases, it peaks among liberals (88%) and under 30s (80%), vs. 61% of conservatives and 64% of seniors. Support also ranges from 85% of Democrats, 65% “strongly,” to 64% of Republicans, 39% strongly. Concern about its cost is broader, and stronger, among those who’d presumably be hit hardest — lower-income adults.

Well, lower-income adults would be hardest hit if we didn’t give them a tax cut equal to their higher energy costs, as Obama plans (see “EPA Analysis: “Returning the revenues in [a lump-sum rebate] could make the median household, and those living at lower ends of the income distribution, better off than they would be without the program.” And indeed consumers can end up further ahead by taking advantage of Federal, state, and utility programs to lower their energy bills with energy-saving strategies that the media hardly ever discusses or polls on.

Our side has been weaker and less consistent on messaging, which makes these poll results even more remarkable.  The public seems to have absorbed the Republican arguments and not been persuaded. If you read the details of the poll, you’ll see that immediately after the regulation question, people were asked the cost question — “How concerned are you that federal regulation of greenhouse gases could substantially raise the price of things you have to pay” (with 77% saying they are concerned).

Americans appear to fully understand the worst-case consequences of what they are supporting.  Imagine how the polling will ultimately turn out when President Obama and his team actually launches an all out messaging blitz on energy and climate action, with a tax cut for the poor and middle class, with aggressive strategies to lower their energy bills and create green clean energy jobs, and with a clear message of the cost to Americans of inaction.

A new NBC/WSJ poll of 1,005 Americans (here) asked the question more directly, and also found the public supports strong action in spite of the cost:

… please tell me whether you approve or disapprove of this proposal:

Charging a fee to companies that emit greenhouse gases, which might result in higher utility bills, and using the money to provide tax cuts for middle-income families

Aprove 58%
Disapprove 35%

Would you approve or disapprove of a proposal that would require companies to reduce greenhouse gases that cause global warming, even if it would mean higher utility bills for consumers to pay for the charges?

Approve 53
Disapprove 40

Perhaps not surprisingly, the Wall Street Journal only reported the second question’s numbers (here).

Back in March, NPR found similar results (here, slide 18) even when testing the GOP’s (dishonest) message against the Democrat’s message:

“Next, I’m going to read you some pairs of statements. After I read each pair,
please tell me which statement comes closer to your own view, even if neither
is exactly right.”

“On the issue of the budget and energy… ”

“Republicans say the Democratic budget creates a huge new tax on energy that will send American jobs overseas to places like China and India, and raise taxes on anyone who uses electricity or drives a car. America needs to develop alternative energy sources like wind, solar, and biofuels and tap proven energy reserves here at home. But energy taxes that fall disproportionately on the poor and middle class are unfair and wrong.”

“Democrats say President Obama’s budget will help build a clean energy economy that creates jobs, kick starts new businesses and cuts our dependence on foreign oil. We’re falling behind Germany and Japan in renewable energy and it’s time for America to lead again. The plan caps global warming pollution, makes corporate polluters pay a fee and rewards alternative energy like wind and solar while cutting taxes for the middle class.”

Significantly, the Democratic message beat the Republican message 53% to 42% — even though the Republican message contains the Big Energy Lies, that Republicans support wind and solar (see “Hill conservatives reject all 3 climate strategies and embrace Rush Limbaugh“), that Republicans actually care about the poor and middle-class and support policies that would help them, and the untrue claim that this is a huge new tax on energy.

Indeed, what is particularly surprising about the first two polls is that they have been conducted after saturation messaging fearmongering by conservatives on the energy price issue, but not terribly strong messaging by our side on tax cuts (which aren’t yet in Waxman-Markey) or energy-efficiency or the cost of inaction.

Again, imagine how the polling will turn out when President Obama and his team actually launches an all out messaging blitz on energy and climate action.

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17 Responses to Americans support greenhouse gas regulation even if it could “substantially” raise energy prices

  1. Jim Beacon says:

    As we stand in a storm of the biggest disinformation blitz (and just plain lies) that anti-science and anti-regulation forces have launched in the past 15 years, it is encouraging to see that at least a *thin* majority of regular people see clearly enough to support greenhouse gas regulation even if it means they will have to pay more for some things. Despite the best efforts of corporate media to dumb down the general populace and encourage the Cult of Me, the American people can still surprise you in a pinch (like they did when they elected Obama).

    But there’s a disturbing note: Many more of those polled supported emissions control (and fewer opposed it) when it was tied to the idea of them getting something for it (a tax cut) than when the question was framed to say it was going to cost them something. So, there is still a large “what’s in it for me?” factor at work which the deniers will continue to hammer away at. The Administration and the clean energy movement need to respond far more effectively to the scare propaganda and twisted science than we have been doing so far. The normally restrained and mild language of scientists and academicians must start including terms of outrage and condemnation and seek direct confrontation with those who misrepresent and misuse scientific reports and proclaim junk science as the genuine article.

    Congratulations to Joe Romm for continuing to make it his priority to take individual media organizations and reporters to task by name whenever they publish the disinformation or provide a forum for it. The rest of us need to stop being so polite in the face of the massive fraud being perpetrated with malice aforethought.

  2. Will Greene says:

    When we do get to the long awaited messaging blitz, I hope it includes science and not just “we’re gonna create 5 million green jobs..ect”. Americans need to advance to the next phase of climate education.

  3. Joeb says:

    Prayers for it to play out how you wish. But when the U.S. govt’s fiscal house of cards collapses in 2010, a lot of political will and smart policies will get flushed down the toilet.

  4. Daryl says:

    Maybe your side has been weaker at messaging because your side has a weaker position in terms of reality of purpose. If you are so convinced to the outcome of apocalyptic disasters the cost should not even be relevant.

    Just come out and say that you plan to take nearly 700 Billion Dollars out of the real economy as we emerge from a deep recession and it will impact everyone in America. This money will then be used not to combat climate change but instead fund social program reforms. Only 150 Billion will be allocated to energy, not to actually replace aging coal and nuclear plants with cleaner sources, but to simply add 5% to the renewables portfolio, ignore the attrition rate and usage growth that is projected at 50% by 2050 not counting an EV revolution in Autos.

    Yes stand up, tell the truth and let the people decide instead of this shell game with energy subsidies to lower income earners to shift once again the burden up the class scale. Tell them what you believe…

    Lets face the facts Joe Romm you do not believe in the disaster movie reel future you claim, you only want to take power and wealth from people who you feel are not worthy to hold it, like corporations and banks, and give it to the benevolent mother Government and Liberal Intellectuals sipping Chai Lattes on University Campuses across America promoting Group Think and intolerance of difference in thought and laughing at the backward conservatives trying to earn their way through life asking for nothing, all to advance your own perceptions of equality that actively excludes 50% of America.

    Tell Americans the real goal is to make sure that Big Business becomes the Dodo of the new age, democratic socialism is the new order and the principles of hard work, self worth, unlimited success and ownership rights are no longer valid in America. Remember America the country when challenged by a President sent a man to the moon, but now believes a challenge to America for solutions to our problems would not be heeded unless there was enough punitive measures in place to force the outcome from entrenched interests instead of just leaving them to stagnate and fail.

    The answer to this problem is out there in America, but you and your ilk seem bent on stifling it through strong arm economic tactics and central planning, innovating in a race against the Government is a lost battle no matter how good your solution is because the entrenched interests become the funded projects under the Government’s benevolence.

    I have seen the real future and the danger is us, the us that forgets our place amoung species is one of dominance, that has been at the mercy of climate for our entire existance and even the greatest weapons invented are nothing compared to the awesome forces of nature. If we limits our potential to adapt and evolve by setting it on some false planned agenda instead of the fits and starts that occur in technological innovation we will fail to meet the challenges now and in the future.

    We will stagnate and become passengers of time instead of shapers of the future… when we try to tame ourselves and bind our options and train our children to conform to the group think we will have already sealed our fate not at the hands of climate but at our lack of faith in each other.

    Solving this problem is not about resources allocated to it, it is about reaching out and accepting all possibilities, make a challenge to America not a demand of its economy. Stop limiting the answers to a narrow range of pre-approved outcomes set by a small group of intellectuals , activists and opportunists.

    Solve the problem, not become the problem.

  5. max says:

    It’s interesting that in addition to Friedman, Krugman is now also beginning to write about climate change.

  6. riverat says:

    Oh Daryl,

    If we’re weaker about messaging it’s because we’re not willing to lie about it. The real future I see if we don’t get a handle on climate change and population (the elephant in the room no one wants to talk about) is rising sea levels, expanding deserts, a greatly reduced and less robust biosphere and probably fewer people on the Earth by 2100, either by reduced birthrate or famine and wars (with some swine flu thrown in).

    Dave

  7. Craig says:

    Anyone care to predict when the messaging blitz begins?

    The administration’s strategy up to this point has been more steady bombardment than blitz. I’m guessing the barrage gets laid down this autumn.

  8. I think it will be more interesting to posit what said Messaging will entail.

    Climate change has a marketing problem (see: Daryl’s World above) that I don’t think is a function of education or understanding the science. The science is relatively simple. The problem is that the effects are slow-moving, future-based and not particularly visual.

    If people marketing climate change want to get serious, they would start thinking about why people refuse to opt in to 401(k)s at work even though they know–hope, even–they’ll be getting old. Or why smokers get all defiant and keep smoking when they are told (educated) that smoking is bad for them.

    This is not good science, but I honestly believe that effective climate change messaging links ethereal, future-based slow moving ideas like climate change to immediate tangibles like litter, asthma rates, the beauty of plants and Urban Heat Island Effect.

    People are really good at grasping graspable problems. I think it’s important to slip climate change in to a sheaf of tangible environmental threats, and take advantage of the fact that people really do care. The understanding will evolve out of that commitment to tangibles and immediate problems.

  9. Pangolin says:

    The distributed nature of green jobs mean they are easy to understand and approve of. Most towns in the US now have some smug bastard that installed uneconomic solar panels ten years ago and now gloats that those panels were the best investment he/she ever made.

    People get that the solar panel installers, the window replacers, the roof whiteners, the attic insulators and the wind turbine maintenance crew have to work in their town. That means good jobs, close to home, that keep money where they can get at it. If you tell them they are going to pay $1 for power that comes from Saudi Arabia or $1.05 for power where $0.20 goes to Joe down the block they can eat the extra nickel.

    Most people can even understand that charging extra for carbon emissions and then refunding most of the funds to citizens is a viable proposal. This is the exact same social payment system that is enormously popular in Alaska where oil revenues are distributed to state residents. It rewards the thrifty and penalizes the wasteful as should always be the case.

    The problem with our climate change message is that endless kow-towing to capitalism has hobbled the reality that there is no economy without a co-operative climate. We need to shut up about market-based decision making and start installing unprofitable but effective equipment.

  10. Jeff N says:

    Understand that the debate is undergoing a tectonic shift from “pollution is bad- yes or no” to “We should spend X to cut Y amount of pollution that will result in Z effect on global warming- yes or no.”
    Playing fast and loose with the facts (on either side) won’t work. The poll tells you 85% of Democrats and 64% of Republicans “support” controlling greenhouse gasses, but only 53% support it “even if it results in higher bills.” You are correct to be nervous about this.
    You cannot cut GHG emissions 80% below 2005 levels over the next two or even three decades without replacing coal-fired power plants. As there is no “green” source of power that costs the same or less than coal, this will cost money. Lots of money. That is fact, not “scare-mongering” and people know this.
    If you attempt to fudge this – claim the cost is nothing because we refund your money (powerplants are free these days?) – one of two things will happen: Either that will be a self-fulfilling prophecy and we won’t spend money (and therefore won’t cut GHG emissions). Or people will discover you were lying and they’ll question everything you told them.

  11. Jeff,

    You are right that lying, fudging or obfuscating cost is a problem. I think Krugman is writing about cost eloquently today. I also really think you’re right about this:

    “We should spend X to cut Y amount of pollution that will result in Z effect on global warming- yes or no.”

    The key is to create a compelling narrative, in which the cost has tangible, immediate benefits attached. This narrative exists. It is entirely true to tell a story about expensive projects like electric car infrastructure or massive upgrading of the grid to capitalize on the wind and solar, that frontloads tangible, immediate benefits and focuses on the moral, feelgood dimension of combating global warming.

    It is true that we should commit to costs like electric cars and renewable energy because car and coal power plant emissions create serious public health problems. Kids in LA simply grow up with asthma, and that’s messed up. Dependence on foreign oil is a major national security issue that even the most conservative person can get behind. Over the long term the shift to renewable energy saves money, and who can argue with prudence? America really needs to re-create a manufacturing economy of some sort and keep being technologically innovative–is there a legitimate argument against creating jobs and progress in general?

    Harness these practical, tangible, immediate concerns to a credible morality tale about the planet we are leaving our children and how good it feels to be good stewards to that planet, and the costs sell themselves!

    Keep focusing on the science of climate change, and the very things that make science powerful, like its insistence on incredulity, are going to keep the public debate about climate change policy nebulous, future-oriented, wonky and eye-glazing.

    Keep trying to educate people to look at the problem the way you want them to look at it, and you’ll keep finding that people think it’s more fun and easier to mock Al Gore’s “hypocrisy” than do the heavy-lifting you (big you, global you) are asking them to do.

  12. Jeff N says:

    I don’t mean to be a spoilsport, but Krugman is fudging in today’s column.
    “But the best available estimates suggest that the costs of an emissions-limitation program would be modest, as long as it’s implemented gradually.”
    What does modest mean? What does gradual mean (isn’t there something about tipping points)?

    [JR: Modest means one tenth of a cent on the dollar.]

    Note that the price tag is going to dramatically change the debate (the reason it’s being fudged). If a car dealer called me and asked if I’d like a new Prius for a modest price, I’d reflexively say “sure” and think little more about it. Once she told me the price, however, I’d start asking questions- do I need a Prius, what other options are there, how do they compare on price, does my car really need to be replaced today or can I wait a few years, if I buy one today how will that affect my budget, how would I feel if the government told me I have to buy a Prius today?

    The point I was going for in my previous post was: Be ready for those questions. Answer them honestly and politely.

  13. Daryl makes an interesting point: why is it that the revenue from CO2 penalties (or taxes, or whatever you wish to call them) will not go to clean tech deployment, such as a national grid, but will be used for social programs? Why should health care reform and other bailouts be subsidized by cap revenues? Maybe this could be the reason that the public is squeamish about taking action against global climate change: they rightly suspect they are being conned in a bait-and-switch game.

  14. Jeff N says:

    [JR: Modest means one tenth of a cent on the dollar.]

    And that would cost me….?

    [JR: Uhh, let's see. How about one tenth of a cent on the dollar? If your household makes $100,000 a year, then it's about $100 a year net impact on your economic welfare. Of course, you could turn that into a net increase in your economic welfare if you take advantage of energy efficiency.]

    I read somewhere that the MIT study Krugman references claims the low-ball estimate is the net cost of the Waxman cap and trade after refund will be an average of $98 per household/year.
    In short- you’re on a year-long process of partisan rancor and lobbying over an elaborate, complicated carbon trading mechanism coupled to a special means-tested tax rebate process that requires a detailed round of modeling and study by MIT all to determine that you, Jeff N, and your family owe $8.17 a month.
    Good grief.
    To the advocates and scientists- Is MIT right, can you save the world for 27-cents a day per household- yes or no? If no, what’s the number? If yes, why are you quoting me tenths of percents of projected economic activity just to avoid asking me for two bucks a week?
    This is why we’re sceptical of the cost estimate.

    [JR: What do you mean by "we" Lone Ranger? This is what the economic literature says as I have shown with multiple links. Right wingers are skeptical of this, yes, but the public seems to get it.]

  15. David B. Benson says:

    Jeff N — For about one trillion US dollars per year we could simply capture and sequester all the excess CO2 emitted. Assume than one billion people are rich enough to pitch in to help, that’s one thousand dollars each per year, about $20 per week per man, woman and child..

    Make you feel better?

  16. Олег says:

    Интересно. Вообще чтение вашего блога это не просто глупое пролистывание разных тем или чтениебреда про то, чем человек сегодня занимался, а нахождение реально интересной информации.