President Obama, who was going to heal the Earth in his first term, didn't do much of that but he put climate change back on the table in his second inaugural address and a new national poll says public support for regulating greenhouse gas emissions is with him - just not with the ways he tried in his first term.
The percentage of Americans who think climate change is occurring fluctuates with the weather and media coverage, so it has rebounded due to a hot summer and a storm hitting New York City media offices, according to the Duke University national online survey. It is at its highest level since 2006, right after "An Inconvenient Truth" came out.
What has not changed is American resistance to cap-and-trade schemes or a carbon tax, cap-and-trade being the bill that Democratic West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin famously shot in a campaign ad.
64% of Americans favor regulating greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, factories and cars and requiring utilities to generate more power from "clean" low-carbon sources. Only 29% support a carbon tax. Returning revenue to taxpayers through a $500 tax rebate only slightly increases support for a carbon tax, to 34%. For cap-and-trade, support is low, but neither 36 percent are neither for nor against, which means they don't have any more idea what it means than the members of Congress who promoted it.
So Americans don't know how money works. Subsidizing wind energy in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, for example, and allowing utilities to charge more for using clean energy means taxpayers actually get hit in the wallet twice. But it isn't called a tax so that is okay.
"The survey shows strikingly high numbers of Americans accept that the climate is changing, but support for market-based approaches such as a carbon tax and a system of tradable emissions are not popular among survey respondents," said Sarah Adair, co-author and associate in research at Duke's Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions in their statement. "Support rises when asked about more familiar concepts of regulation, such as performance standards, but respondents appear to have little or no knowledge about the possible use of a cap-and-trade system to address climate change."
The Duke survey examined public attitudes regarding climate change and the major policy options that President Obama might pursue in his second term. It was conducted by Frederick Mayer and Alex Pfaff of Duke's Sanford School of Public Policy and Adair of the Nicholas Institute.
"Whether in response to extreme weather events like mega-storm Sandy or the improved economy, public opinion has clearly rebounded from its low point of a couple years ago," said Mayer, associate professor of public policy and political science. "Although there appears to be little prospect for tax or cap-and-trade legislation in the current Congress, there is a clear opening for stronger regulation and investments in clean energy."
Other key findings of the poll:
- The percentage of Americans who agree there is solid evidence of a changing climate has steadily increased since 2010, based on an analysis of several national climate change polls. The Duke poll found 50 percent of Americans are convinced the climate is changing and another 34 percent say it is probably changing, an increase from other recent polls.
- 54 percent feel climate change is primarily the result of human activity.
- There are strong partisan differences in the perceived seriousness of the problem. About half of Democrats say it is "very serious" while 35 percent of Independents and 17 percent of Republicans agree.
- Although Democrats are more willing than Republicans to support all policies, the preference for a regulatory or clean energy approach is shared across party lines.
The Internet survey was conducted Jan. 16-22, 2013, by Duke in partnership with KnowledgePanel and involved e-mails to randomly selected households throughout the United States. The margin of error for 1,089 respondents was 3 percentage points. Funding for the survey came from Duke's Climate Policy Working Group.