Belief in global warming grows despite Trump

Source: Daniel Cusick, E&E News reporter • Posted: Monday, December 3, 2018

Climate change skepticism may be alive and well at the White House, but nearly 3 in 4 Americans believe there is “solid evidence” that global warming is occurring, according to new survey data released by Muhlenberg College and the University of Michigan.

That 73 percent of respondents agree average atmospheric temperatures are rising reflects growing public confidence in climate science, experts said, especially after 2014, when the Obama administration’s Climate Action Plan resulted in an upwelling of conservative opposition to federal greenhouse gas reduction programs.

“In a way, we’ve really moved back to what we saw about a decade ago, before there was this huge [negative] shift in public opinion around climate policies,” said Barry Rabe, a professor of public policy and director of the University of Michigan’s Center for Local, State and Urban Policy, which co-directs the biannual National Surveys on Energy and Environment (NSEE).

“It’s clear that during that period, there was an aggressive and coordinated effort to deny climate science and an equal effort to thwart any federal or state policies to deal with greenhouse gas emissions,” he added.

NSEE polling from spring of 2010, for example, showed that only 52 percent of Americans believed there was “solid evidence” of warming, while 36 percent said there was “no solid evidence.” The proportion of respondents saying they were “not sure” about warming has held at an average 12 percent since the fall of 2016.

At the same time, public opinion about renewable energy has seen an upward positive trend over the last several years. In the latest poll, 88 percent of respondents said they “strongly” or “somewhat” support the expansion of solar energy in their states, while 82 percent supported greater use of wind power.

More than 3 in 4 Americans also support state policies that require utilities to increase their use of renewable energy, while an equal percentage support state government increasing subsidies for renewable energy. The gap between Democratic and Republican support for such policies was wider and more varied than for renewable energy generally.

For example, more Democrats stressed the public health and economic development benefits of renewable energy, while Republicans were more likely to associate increased use of renewables with reduced reliance on foreign oil.

On the thorny issue of carbon taxes, majorities of both parties said they would support the implementation of a federal program if they had a clear understanding of how the revenues from such a tax would be used.

Support was generally stronger for reinvesting carbon tax revenues in renewable energy projects or energy efficiency improvements, but was less robust for reinvesting in transportation infrastructure or returning tax dollars directly to households in the form of a cash dividend.

Legislation introduced this week by a bipartisan group of House lawmakers advocates for a carbon fee of $15 per metric ton of emissions, rising by $10 per ton each year. Net revenues would be returned to taxpayers in the form of a dividend (E&E Daily, Nov. 28).

Sponsors of the bill, including Republican Reps. Francis Rooney of Florida and Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, say the measure could slash emissions by one-third in 10 years and 90 percent by 2050 compared to 2015 levels. It remains unclear whether the bill will garner enough support to advance in the House or Senate.