Evidence of a striking shift in public opinion has begun to crystalize over the last few months: Poll after poll is finding staunch majorities of Americans view global warming as a “serious problem” and that human activity is a major driving cause.
In defiance of received Beltway wisdom, voters even told a recent Yale poll that a candidate’s views on global warming will affect their vote, and that the issue should be a top priority for the President and the Congress. Majorities have even stated that when it comes to deficit reduction, they prefer a tax on carbon emissions to cuts in education, Social Security, Medicare, or environmental protection.
Yesterday, Pew Research released new poll research that re-confirms the trend. When asked to choose between developing “alternative sources such as wind, solar and hydrogen” and expanding “exploration and production of oil, coal and natural” gas as their preferred priority for addressing America’s energy needs, 54 percent of Americans went with alternative energy. Only 34 percent chose continued prioritization of fossil fuels. That’s a drop from the 63 percent high in 2011, but an uptick over the 52 percent response last year.
Furthermore, Independents and Democrats were largely in concert, preferring alternative energy sources by 64 and 59 percent, respectively. Only 33 percent of Republicans went with solar and wind, in contrast to the 54 percent who preferred expanded fossil fuel use. But the distance between the two positions within the Republican group was smaller than the distance in the other two collections of voters.
And that wasn’t all. 62 percent of overall voters favored “setting stricter emission limits on power plants to address climate change,” with Democrats once again taking that position by a wide margin of 72 percent, and Independents coming in at a lower-but-still-impressive 64 percent. Republicans opposed the stricter standards by a 48 percent majority, but were again much more evenly split — the minority of GOP voters who favored the emissions limits close at the majority’s heels with 42 percent.
The age divide also stood out: Voters 18 to 29 supported alternative energy by a whopping 71 percent, and it wasn’t until voters crossed the age 65 that majorities flipped in favor of coal, oil and natural gas expansion.
And if the recent behavior and pronouncements of top lawmakers are any indication, this shift in the national mood is being felt. Newly minted Secretary of State John Kerry, who will shortly decide the fate of the Keystone XL pipeline, declared in his first big speech since his confirmation that, “We as a nation must have the foresight and courage to make the investments necessary to safeguard the most sacred trust we keep for our children and grandchildren: an environment not ravaged by rising seas, deadly superstorms, devastating droughts, and the other hallmarks of a dramatically changing climate.” President Obama came out swinging on the issue of climate change in both his Second Inaugural address and the State of the Union speech calling for new renewable electricity and energy efficiency targets, and warming that “if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations [from climate change] I will.”
The latest signs from the White House are that Obama may very well use his executive authority to limit the carbon existing power plants may emit, on top of the regulations the Environmental Protection Agency is finalizing for new power plants.