Poll: Americans worry about climate, but don’t save energy

Source: By Carlos Anchondo, E&E News reporter • Posted: Monday, September 30, 2019

Half of Americans say they have a responsibility to address climate change, but they aren’t always willing to take energy-saving actions to cut emissions, according to a new poll.

The survey released last week from the Associated Press and NORC at the University of Chicago examined individual attitudes toward climate change and steps people may or may not be inclined to take to save energy.

While nearly 90% of respondents said they often or always turn off unneeded lights, less than half said they set their thermostats at 76 degrees Fahrenheit or higher during the summer, in an attempt to limit air conditioning use. A quarter of respondents said they always take that measure.

Research suggests that “many Americans take actions such as adjusting the thermostat or turning off unneeded lights in order to save money, rather than to help the environment,” the report said.

More than 60% of respondents said that the federal government, corporations and industry have a responsibility to address climate change, compared with 50% who said that individual people have the same responsibility. Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 were less likely to say individuals should have responsibility for the issue compared with Americans 60 years and older.

The research adds to existing analyses of the factors driving energy-saving behaviors, and how politics influences thinking on climate change and energy. It follows a poll from AP-NORC this month that found ongoing partisan splits in views about climate change, with Democrats being more likely to support greenhouse gas regulations and say warming is caused by humans. Less than half of independent voters said they believed humans are causing climate change. Among energy policies, 67% of independents backed more funding for renewable energy, but 20% or less supported greater use of hydraulic fracturing and offshore drilling.

Additionally, the polling released last week showed that people who believe they can personally help mitigate the effects of climate change are more likely to reduce their air conditioning in the summers and heating in the winter. They’re also more likely to cut back on gasoline consumption.

Reuven Sussman, a senior research manager for the Behavior and Human Dimensions Program for the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, said that correlation between self-efficacy — or the belief one’s actions make a difference — and the likelihood of a person taking action is an opportunity for behavioral intervention.

“If you can encourage people to make them feel like their actions make a difference, you might see an increased likelihood of acting,” Sussman said.

Erik Thulin, a behavioral science lead at Rare, a Virginia-based nonprofit that uses behavioral change to achieve conservation results, said that people care about what others are doing and that if they see someone using less energy, they in turn are more likely to save more energy.

Thulin said individual actions are critical to solving environmental problems and that there is a spillover effect when someone adopts energy-tied behaviors, such as buying an electric vehicle.

“It’s not just about changing someone’s actions, but how they can influence the people around them by people seeing them acting green,” Thulin said.

In addition to looking at behaviors, the AP-NORC polling asked respondents whom they trust to deliver accurate information about climate science. Fourteen percent said they trust the news media “a great deal/a lot,” compared with 55% trusting climate scientists “a great deal/a lot” and 45% saying they trust the Trump administration “not at all.”

Within the next decade, 28% of respondents said it is “extremely/very likely” that the world will take action to significantly reduce carbon emissions, compared with 44% who said it is only “moderately likely” that such action will be taken.

The poll was conducted Aug. 15-19 among 1,058 adults, and had a margin of error of 4.2 percentage points.