Changing Opinions on Energy and Climate Change

The University of Texas Energy Poll tracks Americans' opinions on energy and climate change related issues. You can see the results of the latest iteration of the poll here.

Opinions are changing.

Respondents are stressing less about energy prices and instead are worried more about environmental costs. Almost half are willing to pay higher prices to protect the environment — nine points higher than in the last poll. Thirty-four percent are unwilling.

Most striking are their attitudes on global climate change. It’s occurring, say 76 percent — a surge of 6 points in six months and 11 points since the poll began. And although there’s still a wide gap between Democrats and Republicans, more than half of Republicans now agree climate change is real.

Such a shift probably has multiple causes, says Kirshenbaum, and the poll hints at several — starting with extreme weather. This past summer was warmer than usual, according to 54 percent of respondents, and water conservation has become a priority for 78 percent.

“The West Coast has seen both wildfires and severe drought,” she says. “Regardless of where people are politically, they may be recognizing that something is different right now.”

Significantly, 65 percent of those polled see reducing carbon emissions as a top priority in ranking candidates' energy policy.

(More charts here.)

The Consensus Gap, the difference between the nearly 100% scientific consensus that climate change is real and the public view on that question, is closing, it is mainly caused by Republicans (not Democrats), and even among Republicans, the gap is reducing.


More like this

Can we have error bars, or at least a sample size or confidence interval? I hate looking at changes with no idea how meaningful they are.

I'm trying to track the information down through the links, but it's not easy to find at the UT site either.

By Young CC Prof (not verified) on 21 Oct 2015 #permalink

Trouble with the first question, and many others of its type, is that it does not distinguish whether climate change is believed to have mainly anthropogenic or natural causes. *That* is the great sociopolitical divide, and key both to mitigation (should we reduce greenhouse gases?) and adaptation (do we expect future warming etc., or just randomness and cycles?).

In 35 individual surveys (about 28,000 interviews) analyzed for a recent paper, we asked people whether climate change is happening now, caused mainly by human activities (~55% nationally), is it happening now, but caused mainly by natural forces (~35%), is it not happening now (~5%) or I don't know (~5%). Asking about climate change without specifying a main cause amounts to mushing together the first group with some fraction of the second. That leads to a higher percentage, but not an interpretable one.

The paper, not paywalled, is here:

By L Hamilton (not verified) on 21 Oct 2015 #permalink

I don't think anyone will disagree that L Hamilton deserves much thanks for some very nice work.

So let's apply it. If 55% accept the consensus, and only 35% don't, the political goal is motivation to action, not education. You aren't really going to change many of the 35%; they are psychologically incapable of it. As I said in the previous thread, we need to move on in the public discourse.

So, to repeat my mantra, first, stop hedging about extreme events. Honestly tell people that these are manifestations of the distorted climate system we have created.

People relate to local effects, and they relate to local mitigation efforts, and if necessary, to local adaptation.

Suffering drought or floods or snowstorms should be a motivation to act; at the national level, changes can be made to aid in acting at the local level. On the energy front, mitigation and adaptation can overlap.

Let's not let the opportunity be lost.

Better to light a candle ....
Here IMHO is a more meaningful graph tracking the percent who think climate change is happening now, caused mainly by human activities. The main curve follows quarterly New Hampshire state surveys; individual TIE fighters mark results from 3 national polls, by different organizations, that asked the same question (coming in pretty close to NH, so it's not a bad proxy). All percentages are graphed with their 95% confidence intervals. There appears to be a slight but statistically significant rise over this period.

Details here:

By L Hamilton (not verified) on 22 Oct 2015 #permalink

"Suffering drought or floods or snowstorms should be a motivation to act"

That's an important, and testable, proposition. We're working on it.

By L Hamilton (not verified) on 22 Oct 2015 #permalink