A couple of bucks stop here

A new survey from the strange combination of Resources for the Future, New Scientist, and Stanford University has some interesting findings not just on how much Americans are willing to pay to very slightly mitigate global warming (answer: not much) but also on the institutional arrangements for those payments.

There were no majorities found for any increase in the price of gas (the most was 46% in favor of a $1 increase as a result of a low carbon fuel standard).

There were large numbers of people willing to pay $87 or $95 a month for electricity, but given that the average monthly bill suggested by the researchers is already $85 a month, that’s hardly a surprise. We could all absorb an annual increase of $24 without noticing.

What is interesting, however, is that the large majority (75 percent) for even that tiny $2 increase shrank to just 53 percent if it were imposed via a cap-and-trade regime rather than a low-carbon standard. The similar majority for a $10 monthly increase shrank to 50 percent in the context of an emissions tax and below plurality (47 percent) for a cap-and-trade system.

A $70 per month increase in the electricity bill was supported by half when imposed by carbon standards, but went down to 38 percent and 35 percent for taxes and cap-and-trade respectively. These figures are similar to those approving of a $1 increase in the price of gas, which is not surprising because they are similar in annual impact.

Overall, consumers are much more willing to put up with electricity price rises than gas price rises, but they have a pronounced antipathy to any government-imposed solutions other than standards (of course, we know where standards can get you), including the market socialism of cap and trade.

The researchers suggest that the figures show that the most a majority of American would be prepared to pay for electricity per month to slow global warming is $91, a $6 per month increase. The figure for gas would be below $4 a gallon (hardly surprising).

And in the end, the oversized simian in the family room is just what benefit in terms of reduced temperature the willingness-to-pay approach gets you. Answer – too little to make a difference (this study looked at a range of prices possible for just a 5 percent reduction in emissions by 2020, and the preference is clearly for the lower end of that range, which may well not be sufficient to hit the target).

In other words, if we are to aim to hit now the sort of targets for emissions proposed by environmentalists it will involve government imposing coercive or punitive price rises on an unwilling public, and that ain’t democracy.

Once again, the signs point towards adaptation being the only politically-acceptable response to global warming.