Summary

Tuesday, January 28, 2014—The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) held a briefing discussing American perceptions of climate change following a new in-depth survey conducted in December 2013 by Resources for the Future, Stanford University, and USA Today. For the first time, the survey explored in detail the public's attitudes toward generating electricity from various sources. Initial results from the survey were featured in the December 20 issue of USA Today, but Dr. Krosnick presented a wide array of additional results.

  • Dr. Jon Krosnick, Professor at Stanford and Senior Fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, discussed his most recent work polling a representative sample of the American people for their opinions on clean energy and climate change. The poll was cosponsored by Stanford University, Resources for the Future, and USA Today, and joins a series of polls on global warming conducted by Dr. Krosnick since 1997.
  • Krosnick noted that despite hundreds of millions of dollars spent on advertising to influence the American public’s view on climate change, this view has remained steady over time. Indeed, Krosnick said that in 1997, 77 percent of people across the United States believed the Earth was warming. That number peaked at 85 percent in 2006, before falling to its current 2013 level of 73 percent.
  • Krosnick added that the real debate is around whether humans are causing this warming. In 1997, 81 percent of people across the nation who thought global warming was happening said humans were the cause. In 2013, that number was 80 percent.
  • When these numbers are broken down by state, Krosnick noted that there is not a single state where a majority of people are skeptical about climate change (Krosnick has data for 46 states: data was not available for Alaska, Hawaii, North Dakota, Wyoming, and the District of Columbia).
  • Krosnick specifically examined the percentage of Americans who were "extremely sure" that global warming is happening and that humans are the cause, and the percentage of Americans who were extremely sure that it is not happening. About a third of the country was extremely sure that anthropogenic climate change is happening, while just seven to eight percent of the country was extremely sure that no global warming is happening.
  • Krosnick also found that the American public overwhelmingly supports renewable energy (this was the first time such a question was asked in his climate polling). His nationwide polling showed that 91 percent of the country supports the use of solar power to produce electricity, 83 percent support the use of hydropower, and 84 percent support wind energy. These numbers contrast with support for fossil fuels: 48 percent of people support natural gas, 33 percent support nuclear energy, and 21 percent support coal for the production of electricity.
  • A majority of Americans were also found to strongly support government action on global warming. Among respondents, 79 percent thought the U.S. government should do a great deal, a lot, or a moderate amount to address global warming.
  • In 2009, 83 percent of Americans said the government should limit greenhouse gas emissions by businesses; in 2013, 81 percent said the same thing. In 2006, 86 percent of the country supported government limits on power plant greenhouse gas emissions; in 2013, 79 percent support such limits. Very few Americans support increasing taxes on electricity and gas in order to reduce their use and cut emissions. Instead, a majority of Americans support tax breaks to encourage the production of electricity from water, wind and the sun. Almost 50 percent of the country supports a carbon tax on business.
  • The Honorable Phil Sharp, President of Resources for the Future and former member of Congress, commented that the findings show that American people are not the issue: they strongly support government action on climate change. He, therefore, strongly disagreed with commentators who say we have to wait for the American people to catch up—it is Congress that needs to catch up with the public.
  • Sharp added that the strong support of the American people leaves room in the political system for elected officials to engage this issue in a serious way.