Guest essay by Eric Worrall
Why do people say they are concerned about climate change, but refuse to pay more taxes to fix the problem?
The Unprecedented Surge in Fear About Climate Change
More Americans than ever are worried about climate change, but they’re not willing to pay much to stop it.
JAN 23, 2019
A surging number of Americans understand that climate change is happening and believe that it could harm their family and the country, according to a new poll from Yale and George Mason University.
But at the same time, Americans are not any more willing to pay money to fight climate change than they were three years ago, says another new poll, conducted by the Associated Press and the University of Chicago.
The data are still striking, suggesting that U.S. concern about climate change has leapt by several points in just the past year. More than seven out of 10 Americans now say that global warming is “personally important” to them, an increase of nine points since March 2018, according to the Yale poll. More Americans than ever—29 percent—also say they are “very worried” about climate change, an eight-point increase.
These changes show up in both new polls. The AP survey found that seven out of 10 of Americans understand climate change is happening. Even more notable: A slim majority of Republicans—52 percent—understand that climate change is real. (The AP asked questions about “climate change,” while Yale polled about “global warming.” The difference in language didn’t seem to change how people replied.)
Yet it’s not clear that Americans are willing to do anything about fighting climate change. Many economists support a carbon tax, a policy that makes polluters pay for emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Forty-four percent of Americans say they would support such a tax, according to the AP.
Americans become more supportive of a carbon tax, though, when they know where the money it collects will go. Sixty-seven percent of Americans would support a carbon tax if it were used to restore forests and wetlands. Majorities also endorse a tax that would support renewable-energy R&D or public-transit improvements. But even then, most people are not willing to spend much. Seventy percent say they would vote against a $10 monthly fee tacked on to their power bill. Forty percent would oppose a $1 monthly increase.
These results don’t lend themselves to straightforward answers about what actions to take next.
Assuming there is nothing wrong with the surveys or methodology, why aren’t people willing to pay to fix a problem they say they are concerned about?
Part of the problem might be that people don’t trust politicians. Spending the money on renovation of forests and wetlands attracts more support, presumably on the assumption that the expenditure would be transparent, that the money would actually be used for a good cause. But The Atlantic article goes on to discuss the surprise loss of a carbon tax vote in Washington State, a plebiscite which promised a lot of the carbon tax money raised would be distributed to community organisations.
The real problem might be deceptive marketing, all the years that greens have been telling us that renewable energy is the cheapest option.
Why would anyone want to pay more for something which is supposed to be cheaper?
Demands for more money to fund “cheaper” renewable energy programmes simply looks dishonest. It looks like green politicians are trying to cash in on public sympathy.
Greens neglected to explain that when they say renewables are “cheaper”, they are usually not talking about electricity bills; their cost claims are mostly based on dubious assumptions about externalities and “fossil fuel subsidies“.
Voters who have bought into the political spin about climate change and cheap renewable electricity are waiting for their green electricity bills to fall. Poor people paying the energy bills of the rich is probably not what they had in mind.