Judging from the level of our national debate, you would guess we are a nation strongly divided on the issue of climate change. But you’d be wrong, according to a new poll from Yale University.
A representative survey of 1,010 adults found that 71 percent think that global warming should be a “very high,” “high” or “medium priority” for the president and Congress. Americans overwhelmingly support policy changes that would help address the issue, the poll found. Participants favored developing clean energy sources by a more than 9-to-1 ratio.
“We find very strong bipartisan support for a variety of climate and energy policies in this country,” said Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change. “It runs contrary to what you might expect looking at, for instance, the current make up of Congress and the Republican candidates for president.”
Transportation and planning policies to avert global warming also enjoyed wide approval among survey participants: 77 percent said they support adding bike lanes to roads, and 80 percent said they support expanding public transportation service.
This was true even among self-identifying Republicans. Some 74 percent of Republican respondents said they supported bike lanes and 80 percent signaled their support for increased public transit availability.
Majorities also supported expanding mixed-use zoning, reducing sprawl and promoting energy efficient apartments over single-family homes.
Republicans were more evenly split on issues of zoning and sprawl; 59 percent said they opposed zoning for mixed-uses in order to reduce the need for a car. However, Republicans were split 50-50 on using zoning to reduce sprawl and commute times.
While Americans were generally supportive of climate change policy fixes, their commitment did not go as far when their wallets entered the equation. For example, poll respondents generally favored expanding public transit options. But when asked if they would be willing to support a 10 cent fee per gallon of gas to support transit, they were overwhelmingly opposed, Leiserowitz said. Americans are also diametrically opposed to tax increases of all types. Those polled rejected the idea of a carbon tax, even if the revenues would be returned in the form of income tax reductions.
But that doesn’t mean Americans are entirely unwilling to bear some costs to support clean energy, Leiserowitz said. For example, when asked if they would support a a 20 percent renewable energy requirement for utility companies, Americans sign on, even if they are told such a regulation would cost them an additional $100 annually in energy costs.
“There is some element of wishful thinking here.” Leiserowitz said. “It’s not that they’re just against paying more; people support increased energy costs. For whatever reason there’s a taboo around paying at the gas pump that people just don’t like. They also don’t like the word ‘tax.'”
Another interesting finding was that public prioritization of federal action on global warming has been declining since 2008, when Yale began its poll. That is mainly due to the public’s increased concern about the economy, Leiserowtz said.
“People are much more worried about losing their job or their house,” he said. “The threat of climate change just can’t compare.”