Major survey finds overwhelming public support for action on global warming and clean energy

Yale and George Mason Universities surveyed 2,164 Americans last fall about their “climate change beliefs, attitudes, policy preferences, and actions.” Details will be posted at midnight Tuesday here. Here is a first look:

  • 92 percent supported more funding for research on renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power;
  • 85 percent supported tax rebates for people buying energy efficient vehicles or solar panels;
  • 80 percent said the government should regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant;
  • 69 percent of Americans said the United States should sign an international treaty that requires the U.S. to cut its emissions of carbon dioxide 90% by the year 2050.

Americans say they are prepared to incure significant costs, as the figure above shows. In fact, they “support policies that would personally cost them more,” specifically (emphasis in original):

  • 79 percent supported a 45 mpg fuel efficiency standard for cars, trucks, and SUVs, even if that meant a new vehicle cost up to $1,000 more to buy;
  • 72 percent supported a Renewable Portfolio Standard that required electric utilities to produce at least 20 percent of their electricity from wind, solar, or other renewable energy sources, even if it cost the average household an extra $100 a year;
  • 72 percent supported a government subsidy to replace old water heaters, air conditioners, light bulbs, and insulation, even if it cost the average household $5 a month in higher taxes;
  • 63 percent supported establishment of a special fund to make buildings more energy efficient and teach Americans how to reduce their energy use, even if this cost the average household $2.50 a month in higher electric bills.

Interestingly, the study also finds that most Americans support unilateral action:

These results may appear at odds with recent polls — see “Gallup poll shows failure of media, conservatives still easily duped by deniers” and “Deniers are still mostly duping only GOP voters” and “The Deniers are winning, but only with the GOP.”

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But I think the results are not so inconsistent. Americans want to reduce pollution and strongly believe in clean energy — even most of the (large) minority that tells pollsters “News about about global warming is exaggerated” today. Indeed, most Americans are smart enough to figure out that the threat from global warming is not its (relatively) small impact on climate today, but the huge danger it poses in future decades if we continue on the business as usual path of unrestricted emissions.

I will expand on this point with another look at this poll later. I am also hoping to get somebody who was involved in the research to comment on it.