September 14, 2016
How Much Will Americans Pay to Battle Climate Change?
By Sam Orivia The Wall Street Journal
A wide range of public opinion polls point to a clear and growing trend: Americans of all political stripes are increasingly worried about climate change. This is undoubtedly good news for those advocating for robust policies to reduce carbon emissions, the main contributor to climate change.
But here’s a less asked and probably more important question: What are Americans actually willing to pay to do something about it?
When economists and policymakers want to assess the benefits of an environmental policy, they often turn to the concept of “willingness to pay.” Think of it this way: if you knew someone was coming to your house tonight to steal $20, how much would you pay to avoid that? You would almost certainly be willing to pay up to nearly $20, right?
This is what researchers from the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC) and the Associated Press—NORC Center for Public Affairs Research at the University of Chicago set out to better understand. Their nationally representative poll found that 43% of Americans were unwilling to pay an additional $1 per month in their electricity bill to combat climate change—and a large majority were unwilling to pay $10 per month. That’s despite the fact that a whopping 77% said they think climate change is happening and 65% think it is a problem the government should do something about. Support plummets as the amount of the fee increases.
This is an upside-down result. The best available science tells us that Americans should be willing to pay considerably more, because the damages from climate change are so great—including to them personally. If we use the federal government’s estimate of the combined social cost of carbon pollution and apply it to the typical U.S. household’s electricity consumption on today’s national grid mix, the average household faces damages of almost $20 per month. Yet just 29% of respondents said they would be willing to pay at least that much...