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America’s Secret Climate Consensus and its Implications for Climate Legislation.

Updated: Jun 2

Due to media portrayal and the frequency of anti-climate change campaigns seen on the internet, it would not be unreasonable to assume that a significant portion of American citizens still do not believe in climate change's impacts, causes, and implications. Even U.S. Congress members, presidential candidates, think tanks, and other public entities have made statements opposing the reality of global warming. This disengagement has led to stagnation in the actions of our government representatives and corporate entities as they believe Americans do not demand sustainability. However, the reality of what Americans think about climate change might be more optimistic than we think.

Since 1995, Stanford’s Political Psychology Research Group, co-led by Professor Jon Krosnick, has been researching and surveying the American public on their opinions of climate change. These surveys are centered around several core ideas including but not limited to fundamental beliefs, should action be taken, government policy, and the priority of climate issues. For example, Krosnick would ask, “Has the Earth been warming? How much effort should the government devote to the issue? How much of a priority is the issue of global warming for Americans?” In response to the first question, Krosnick observed a consistently whopping ~80% of Americans who believed that global warming is probably happening. The percentage of Americans who believed that the government should take action on climate change is similarly consistent and high.

Similarly, Yale’s Global Warming’s Six Americas has divided the American citizen into six possible categories of engagement with climate issues. These include “alarmed”, “concerned”, “cautious”, “disengaged”, “doubtful”, and “dismissive”. As of Fall of 2023, 78% percent of surveyed individuals are not doubtful or dismissive of climate change. Moreover, trends indicate that citizens will become increasing aware of climate change. The “alarmed” category has increased at almost double the rate since 2013; whereas, the “doubtful” category has decreased by almost a third of its original size in 2013.

Another interesting result from Krosnick’s research was the American’s willingness to pay when it came to climate change and emission reduction. As much as we believe that our economy is driven by money and cheap gas prices, Krosnick’s survey results do not lie. In economics, the term willingness to pay refers to the total maximum price a customer is willing to pay for a product or service. In the context of reducing emissions through policy, this money would be the total amount of money Americans are willing to use to, for example, enforce policies that might promote the usage of induction stoves and heat water pumps or tax the usage of high-emission products. In the graphic below, Krosnick’s results compare the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s higher and lower bound costs of incurring the American Power Act. The American Power Act, or the “Kerry-Boxer”, is a senate bill that outlines a sector-based approach to reduce pollution that includes using allowances and other provisions to target the advancement of the cleantech energy market. Whereas the EPA estimated a lower bound of Americans’ willingness to pay at $12,760 million, the three studies conducted by Krosnick’s team indicated that Americans were willing to pay $13,340 million, $16,008 million, and $16,356 million for the three respective studies—all above the lower bound of the EPA. These results indicate that Americans are very much willing to use their savings to reduce GHG emissions.

If you ask your neighbor or friends about what percentage of American citizens believe that action should be taken for climate issues, this percentage may look somewhat like 30% or 50%. These percentages may stem from other studies conducted such as the Pew Research Center climate opinion study.

“Overall, 37% of Americans say addressing climate change should be a top priority for the president and Congress in 2023, and another 34% say it’s an important but lower priority. This ranks climate change 17th out of 21 national issues included in a Center survey from January.” — Pew Research Center

Krosnick observes several issues in the wording of this statement. Perhaps, the biggest issue is the implication of climate impact “in 2023”. Although climate change has caused great amounts of death, poverty, and other poor human conditions around the world today, it will only worsen in the next few decades. Instead of “What do you think is the most important problem facing the country today?”, which leads to narrow and past-looking answers, Krosnick asked "What do you think will be the most important problem facing the world in the future?", and "What do you think will be the most serious problem facing the world in the future if nothing is done to stop it?". Hence, results from the Pew Research Center and other traditional climate opinion surveys neglect to ask the right questions that strike at the core of what the government should do to prepare for the future of our nation.

So, what are the implications of Krosnick’s surveys and the apparent “greenness” of our country? For one, this implies that there is still a great disconnect between the American citizen and the actions taken by the government, or at realized by the government. This gap, or climate consensus “secret”, has made climate policy an extremely slow process, contradictory to the fast pace at which policy needs to be enforced at federal levels due to the speed of global warming. Krosnick says, “The public overwhelmingly wants emissions reduction in the future, and they would like government officials and businesses to be doing more to make that happen”. Definitive ways exist where climate change can be reduced and resiliency can be built. As everyone starts to feel the weight of extreme heat and weather lying on them, their opinions have continuously represented their concerns. Hence, it’s time for the people in power to open their ears and hear what the American public has to say about climate change.


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