More are willing to pay to fight climate change, survey says

How much would you pay on your electric bill to combat climate change?

Is $10 or $20 a month reasonable? $50 too much?

Or, maybe you’re unwilling to shell out anything at all.

A new survey offers some insight regarding the extent to which Americans consider climate change a legitimate threat and how much they’re willing to pay for government policies that would respond to the phenomena.

Conducted by the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC) and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, the inquiry found that 65% of Americans think climate change is a problem that the government needs to address, including 84% of Democrats and 43% of Republicans.

Those findings are consistent with previous polls on the topic. But what’s different in this survey is its look at Americans’ willingness to reach into their own pockets to help keep temperatures from rising to dangerous levels.

In all, 57% of those polled said they would pay at least $1 more on their monthly electric bill for climate action, including 29% who would pay $20 a month, an amount comparable to federal government estimates of damages from climate change per household.

Twenty percent indicated they would pay $50.

Clearly, resistance to footing a higher electric bill is considerable, too, with 42% of the respondents saying they were unwilling to pay even $1 for such policies. One percent of the participants didn’t respond to the question.

Party affiliation is the main determinant of how much cost people would bear, not education, income or geographic location, with Democrats consistently willing to pay more than Republicans, the survey’s authors said.

Still, the findings indicate more public support for paying for climate policies such as a carbon tax, a cap-and-trade plan or other regulation than may have been evident before, according to Michael Greenstone, the director of EPIC.

“I think what this says is that quietly there is developing a change in peoples’ attitudes with respect to paying for climate policy,” Greenstone said in an interview.

“I found it striking that one in five households were willing to pay $50 a month,” he added.

Among other survey results:

► 54% of Americans (67% of Democrats and 46% of Republicans) favor federal regulations that would reduce U.S. coal use, though that support slips to 45% when the question is paired with the assertion that such regulations have resulted in the loss of coal jobs;
► Only a quarter of Americans are confident that the U.S. will meet its obligations under an international climate agreement reached in Paris last December, but eight in 10 say the country should still try to meet those responsibilities.

Coming just two months before the November elections, the EPIC-AP survey concludes that energy and climate change are “important issues” for about half of likely voters as they cast their ballots.

Moreover, the results raise questions about the extent of local support for a legal challenge of Obama administration climate policy by 24 states.

Still, in an election year when the personalities of the Democratic and Republican nominees for president attract more attention than specific issues, it’s difficult to determine how much public perceptions on an issue like climate change may play a part in determining which candidate wins.

The survey wasn’t limited to climate change; it also probed public opinions on the use of hydraulic fracturing to produce gas from shale formations — one which has led to record gas output in the U.S. in recent years.

The findings aren’t good for the gas industry and its supporters.

Of the six in 10 respondents who had an opinion on fracking, twice as many oppose the practice as support it. Not surprising, the disapproval is much more prevalent among Democrats than Republicans.

Just as worrisome to an industry that has spent millions of dollars promoting the benefits of fracking is that most Americans significantly underestimate how much gas is produced using the technology.

Only one in five correctly say that fracking accounts for two-thirds of the U.S. gas supply, the survey authors note.

“I think fracking is still pretty new,” Greenstone said. “Outside of the communities where it’s taking place, I think those views are probably still evolving.”


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