Environmentalists concerned as support for the fight against climate change drops for the first time.
A new Stanford University/IPSOS poll indicates that Americans have cooled to the idea of government intervention to curb global warming. Though a strong majority still holds for climate action, the poll shows an average 5 percent drop in support between 2010 and 2012 across a range of policies, including tax incentives for companies using renewable energy, cap-and-trade schemes and other mandated reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, and taxes aimed at reducing energy consumption.
“This is the first time we’ve ever seen a decline in support for these government policies. We have seen [support] very consistent over the years,” said survey director Jon Krosnick, a professor of communication, political science and psychology at Stanford. “Just in these last two years, this decline is quite substantial by comparison to prior flat years.”
The decline was concentrated among those with a distrust of environmental science, combined with an increase in political rhetoric on the issue of global warming. Not surprisingly, the level of support for government action generally ran along party lines.
Throughout the arduous Republican primaries, only one candidate, John Huntsman, expressed any belief that global warming is real, let alone suggesting anything be done about it. His colleagues ranged from Mitt Romney’s either/or comparison between climate action and jobs to Rick Santorum’s characterization of global warming as a “pseudo-religion” and Ron Paul calling it a “hoax.”
Another factor in the decline, says Krosnick, was due to a slight decline in global average temperatures for 2011, though the year still the ninth warmest year on record. However, this phenomenon also plays into recent reports that more Americans believe climate change is real in the wake of unprecedented heat and extreme weather this spring. People are swayed by immediate occurrences rather than long-term trends.
While politics and weather do play a part in the decline of Americans interested in climate change action, economics doesn’t, says Krasnick. The study shows no evidence that the decline has concentrated in areas hardest hit from the weakened economy.
Nonetheless, despite a rhetorical onslaught and a slightly cooler 2011, a majority of Americans still favor government action on climate change. The level of support varied to the specific policy measure. More than half of those questioned responded favorably to 7 of 10 questions related to government action. Among the favorable policy actions, 52 percent support tax incentives and other mandates for electric cars, with a high of 73 percent supporting tax breaks to companies developing renewable energy.
Measures clearly not supported include tax increases in electricity consumption, favored by only 18 percent of respondents, higher taxes on gasoline with 26 percent, and tax breaks for nuclear power development, supported by 43 percent. The margin of error in poll ranged from 3 to 4.5 percent, depending on the question.
Next year’s poll should prove interesting as 2012 heats up – in both temperature and political rhetoric.
Tom Schueneman is a freelance environmental writer and founder of GlobalWarmingisReal.com