Want to Implement Carbon Pricing? Couple it with Optimism

The Nathan Cummings Foundation sponsored a survey on attitudes towards tackling global warming by putting a price on carbon emissions. The results are frustrating and revealing, but in the end offer a way to positively deal with people’s concerns.

You won’t be surprised to learn that while the 600 respondants said they’re concerned about global warming, when they were told that they may have to pay higher gas or oil prices in order to battle it, support for action dropped off. For instance, “Support for a Cap-and-Trade program fell from 62% to 46% when voters were told of the potential impact on energy prices.”

Of different solutions, whether cap and trade or investing in new technology to bring down the cost of clean energy, people prefered investing in new technology.

The idea is good—make clean energy cheaper. The respondants didn’t blink much when they learned that the investment in clean tech might cost more in taxes or deficit spending. But I think that’s based on a lack of understanding that to make clean energy less costly in a time frame that would actually make a difference for the planet, we’re talking about an investment program of the magnitude we have probably never seen before.

The answer, as the survey folks from American Environics say, seems to be in connecting the dots for folks. Putting a price on carbon, given how little time we have to address the rising temperatures, is our reality at this point. But combining putting a price on carbon with investing in clean energy seems to indicate to respondents that the cost of clean energy won't always be high.

“Voters remain extremely anxious about the cost of energy, and care more about energy costs than global warming,” noted Jeff Navin, a political analyst who worked on the survey. “Global warming proposals that can be framed as increasing the cost of gasoline and electricity will likely trigger tremendous backlash from an anxious electorate.”

The strong support for action to achieve energy independence, create new jobs, and lower the cost of renewable energy sources provides an opportunity to overcome voter anxiety over energy to confront global warming.

Basically, we're talking about giving them hope.

“The key to passing substantive limits on carbon emissions is to couple those limits with specific policies to make clean energy cheaper,” noted Navin. “Unless advocates can address the real anxiety Americans feel about the cost of energy, passing substantive limits on carbon emissions will prove extremely difficult.”