By Gosia Labno
The majority of Americans are concerned about climate change, are willing to trade fossil fuels for solar and wind energy, but are only willing to pay an extra $5 to make the switch. Those were the results Harvard Professor of Government Stephen Ansolabehere discovered in writing his latest book: Cheap and Clean: How Americans Think About Energy in the Age of Global Warming. Ansolabehere presented these and other findings from his book at an Energy Policy Institute at Chicago (EPIC) seminar on December 3rd.
The book, co-authored by David Konisky of Georgetown, is based on a series of surveys Ansolabehere, Konisky and others began conducting in 2001 as students at MIT (?). They asked: What do you want the energy sector in the U.S. to look like? How expensive do you think energy is? What would be the cheapest? What would be good/bad for the environment? How much does global warming motivate your thinking?
Generally, Ansolabehere found age and political affiliation didn’t really influence their answers. In fact, Ansolabehere called energy one of the “least political subjects” he has ever encountered. Instead, people’s perceptions of the costs of benefits were significant factors. While 80 percent said they wanted to move away from coal, oil and nuclear power and towards wind and solar energy, they were only willing to see their electric bills go up 5 percent – translating to about $5 – in order to pay for it.
“Climate concern does not translate entirely into support for climate legislation,” Ansolabehere concluded.
Because concern about climate change is by itself not enough to motivate Americans to change climate policy, Ansolabehere said it is important to make the public aware of the link between climate change and other environmental and health concerns like air pollution, as well as the impacts of climate change (flooding, droughts, more frequent extreme storms, etc.). He reminded the audience that climate policy is not just climate policy. It is also environmental and energy policy. Framing it this way, may make all the difference when it comes to gaining America’s support for policy actions.