We’ve been listening to the opinion surveys about climate change, and they’re mostly useful. We normally think of them as telling us whether Americans have broken free of oil industry doubt mongering (we mostly have). But there’s so much more to be learned. If done well, the surveys can help us frame the opportunities and obstacles we face in mobilizing responsible climate action.
One such survey is the University of Texas Energy Poll, produced twice per year since 2011. With around 200 categories of questions, I can’t recommend it for vacation reading. But for understanding those around us, it’s a treasure trove. Here are a few selected items, among many more that might interest you:
- First things first: 73% of Americans accept that climate change is happening, and only 16% deny it. You would have thought that it was less lopsided, but that’s just the political blogosphere doing what it does.
- Of those who acknowledge that climate change is happening, at least 73% agree that human activity contributes to it. That means that a majority of all respondents affirm that human activity contributes to climate change.
- People rank deforestation, oil and coal as the top three reasons for climate change.
- About half of respondents are personally concerned about climate change. Of those who acknowledge that the climate is changing, only 8% aren’t concerned. Of the concerned, 94% attribute climate change to human activity.
- 64% of respondents think we should reduce carbon emissions; only 15% disagree (and most of these say they are motivated by fears of costs, or worry that it won’t do any good).
- 58% of respondents are concerned about carbon emissions from energy production and consumption, and only 15% aren’t (even though more are concerned about checkbook issues like the cost of electricity).
- When it comes to personal lifestyle changes, we’re probably susceptible to wishful thinking. For example, 54% of us are willing to buy a high-efficiency vehicle in principle; but in the next five years, only 34% think we will do so; to date, only 3% us have already done so; and the estimated mpg for our household vehicles hasn’t budged since 2011 (24.4 mpg 2011 v. 24.1 mpg 2016). Some work ahead here.
- Political candidates aren’t the best ones to tell us what “Americans want.” In fact, 57% think the Federal government should do more to prepare us for future energy needs, and only 24% disagree. Specifically, 70% of us think that the Federal government should subsidize renewable technologies and energy efficiency, while only 34% think coal should get the same treatment.
- As for presidential politics, 61% want a leader who will reduce our carbon emissions and fund research into new energy technology. A majority wants a president who will expand incentives for renewable technologies and require utilities to offer higher levels of electricity from renewable sources. Opposition to these goals are all in the single digits or teens.
Unfortunately, we don’t see a major change in beliefs or attitudes toward climate change over the 2011-2016 period. Even so, strong majorities recognize what is happening to the climate; most people recognize human responsibility; only small minorities deny these realities; and most want the government to be actively engaged in solutions. But over the last 5 years, opinion on these matters is not changing in significant ways.
On the bright side, you can now come off the defensive. The voices resisting climate action may be loud. They may rule the talk radio waves. And they may control Congress. But a HUGE majority of people around you know what’s happening to the earth, are concerned, and will support your efforts to call for serious action by our government and country.