Do Americans want “aggressive action” on climate change? That’s the subject of a new opinion poll conducted by Reuters. “Americans demand climate action (as long as it doesn’t cost much),” according to the headline of the published analysis of the results. The words in parenthesis confirm what has long been obvious. Support for “climate action” drops precipitously when people consider the costs.
For example, in an Associated Press poll published in January, only 28 percent of respondents said they would be willing to pay an additional $10 per month to fight climate change. Similarly, in the new Reuters poll, only 29 percent of respondents said they would be willing to pay an extra $100 per year on their electric bills to help limit climate change.
What is noteworthy, though, is that support for “climate action” is likely even lower than the Reuters poll and accompanying article suggest. As noted, the article’s headline states that “Americans demand climate action.” The poll does not actually show that because none of the questions deal with what respondents intend or are willing to “demand.” More importantly, the questions are framed to elicit positive responses in favor of some form of “climate action.”
Here’s the poll’s first question: “To what extent do you agree or disagree that given the amount of greenhouse gasses that it produces, the United States should take aggressive action to slow global warming?” Sixty-nine percent of respondents agreed. That’s not surprising because the question subtly pushes respondents in favor of “aggressive action,” in two ways.
First, the phrase “given the amount of greenhouse gases it produces,” is a guilt prompt. It suggests U.S. emissions are too high and evokes the narrative that Americans consume too much energy. Responses would likely be different if the question simply asked, “Should the United States take aggressive action to slow global warming?” Responses would almost certainly be different if it included alternative text, such as “given that global temperatures are rising half as fast as climate models forecast,” or “given the billions of dollars consumers and taxpayers already spend to subsidize electric vehicles, transit, biofuels, and renewable energy.”
The question is also biased because it implies that some form of central planning is the only kind of action that counts. Completely hidden from respondents is the possibility that market-driven energy abundance is the best climate policy because it makes people wealthier while dramatically reducing their vulnerability to climate-related risks.
The next question, “How willing would you be to do the following in the next year to help limit climate change?” is meaningless because the answers bear no relation to what people actually intend to do. For example, one follow-up question is: “Are you willing to switch to an electric vehicle?” Thirty-three percent of respondents answered yes. Economic data suggest otherwise. Total U.S. vehicles sales in 2018 were 17,274,250 units. Total U.S. electric vehicle sales in 2018 were 361,307 units—2 percent of all new vehicles sold. Thus, the idea that 33 percent of Americans are willing to purchase an electric vehicle “next year,” and chiefly due to climate concerns, is ridiculous.