Global Issues >> Global Warming

Global Warming

Strategies for Reducing Emissions

Americans support a variety of methods for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Very large majorities support strategies that provide tax incentives to utility companies that sell environmentally clean energy and to individuals who purchase energy-efficient appliances. Very large majorities support major efforts to reduce automobile emissions by requiring higher fuel efficiency standards in automobiles (even if this means higher costs), requiring half of all new automobiles to be hybrid-electric or similarly high-mileage by 2010, renewing the tax incentives for hybrids, and eliminating the tax incentives for large SUVs and Hummers. The strategy for reducing emissions through a system in which companies trade emissions allowances is not popular with the public, though arguments that it would reduce costs are convincing to a modest majority.

Very large majorities support offering tax incentives to corporations and individuals to encourage cleaner energy and efficiency. In a June 2005 PIPA/KN poll a very large majority of 81% supported providing "tax incentives to utility companies to encourage them to sell environmentally clean energy, such as solar and wind power, to consumers," slightly higher than the 75% that agreed in PIPA/KN's June 2004 poll. Similarly, 81% favored giving "cash incentives like tax credits and rebates to individual households that upgrade to more energy efficient appliances like refrigerators and air conditioners," Virtually unchanged from the 80% who agreed in June 2004 [1]

Very large majorities supported major efforts to reduce automobile emissions. In a January 2005 PIPA-KN poll, very large majorities also supported major efforts to reduce automobile emissions. When asked to assume "that it would cost more to buy or lease a car," 77% percent nonetheless favored "the government requiring car manufacturers to meet higher fuel efficiency standards than they do now." In a previous 2004 study, PIPA asked this question differently. Eighty-two percent favored "the government requiring car manufacturers to meet higher fuel efficiency standards than they do now," up from 76% when CBS asked this question in September 2003. More significantly, when asked in a follow-on question "What if that meant it would cost more to own or lease a car?" 63% still said they would favor higher fuel efficiency standards. [2]

Large majorities also favored taking even stronger regulatory steps for automobile design and production. In September 2005, Pew also found 86% that favored "requiring better fuel efficiency for cars, trucks and SUVs (Sport Utility Vehicles)." This is higher than the 76% who approved of "the government requiring car manufacturers to meet higher fuel efficiency standards than they do now" (CBS News, Sept 2003).

In PIPA's June 2005 poll, 70% percent favored requiring "that by 2010, half of all new cars produced are hybrid-electric or some other type that is very fuel-efficient," unchanged from the 71% in June 2004. Seventy-seven percent in June 2005 and 78% in 2004 also favored "continuing the tax credit for purchasing a hybrid-electric car," (PIPA). Only 26% in June 2005 and 28% in June 2004 opposed this proposal. On the other hand, in the June 2004 PIPA poll, 83% opposed "continuing to give large SUVs and Hummers a bigger tax credit than for ordinary cars used for business purposes," as is done in current tax law. [3]

Ask to consider a variety of proposals currently advocated in Congress to reduce US dependence on oil, in Sept 2005 Greenberg Research found an overwhelming 92% that support "increasing fuel efficiency standards for cars, creating tax credits for hybrids and increasing our commitment to develop renewable energy sources." It should be noted that the question included all three proposals and so it can't be inferred that an overwhelming majority supports each proposal individually, but it is relevant to consider that though all three were mentioned in the context of reducing energy dependence, all three are considered means to achieve greenhouse gas reductions. [4]

In an August 1997 Mellman poll, the policies that were seen as being most likely to be effective all involved technological solutions. These approaches and the percentages that believed they would be effective included to "require higher fuel efficiency and cleaner-burning engines in all new cars" (88%); "require" or "provide tax incentives to" ... "utility companies to offer alternative energy services that are more efficient and environmentally clean, such as solar and wind power" (85% in both cases); "give cash incentives ... to individual households that upgrade to more energy-efficient appliances like refrigerators and air conditioners" (84%). [5]

Consistent with this optimism, there is evidence that a substantial number of Americans believe that many of the needed innovations to deal with global warming economically already exist, but that these development and their distribution are being held back by business interests. Asked to choose between two statements in the August 1997 Mellman poll, 52% chose the following: "The technology already exists to solve many of the problems that cause global warming, but big businesses like the oil and auto industries are preventing them from reaching consumers because it is more profitable to keep things the way they are." Just 29% chose the statement, "Solving the problems that cause global warming will mean developing new technologies to reduce our use of oil, coal and gasoline, which will cost billions of dollars" (19% had no opinion). [6]

According to Pew (September 2005) , however, Americans do not outright support "promoting the increased use of nuclear power." Only 39% favored it while 53% were opposed. Interestingly, one question suggests that a slim majority might support greater use of nuclear power--if at the same time, the use of fossil fuels decreased in a clear-cut tradeoff. The Los Angeles Times proposed in April 2001 that "One suggestion for reducing the problem of global warming is to increase the use of nuclear power as a source of energy and to decrease the use of fossil fuels, such as oil and gas." In this framework, 52% supported "the increased use of nuclear power as a source of energy in order to prevent global warming" (33% opposed). [7]

Trading Emissions Allowances

A controversial aspect of the McCain-Lieberman legislation is that it calls for a system in which companies trade emissions allowances (also known as "cap and trade"). The public did not find this an attractive idea. However, this opposition does not appear to be deep-seated, as a majority found arguments in favor of the idea convincing, as well as arguments that opposed it.

Because this subject is somewhat complex, respondents were taken through a series of questions. First they were introduced to the subject with the following statement:

If this bill (McCain-Lieberman legislation) were to pass, each large company would be allowed to emit a limited amount of greenhouse gasses. A controversial aspect of the bill is that it allows companies to buy and sell their allowances to each other. The idea is that it will cost some companies much more than other companies to change business practices to lower their emissions. If companies with low costs could reduce their emissions further, they could sell their emission allowances to other companies who would save money by buying those allowances. Here are some arguments on these issues. Please select whether you find them convincing or not.

They were then presented a series of pro and con arguments. [8] The con arguments were found convincing by large majorities. Seventy-seven percent found convincing (45% very convincing) the argument that "It is just not right for companies to buy the right to emit greenhouse gases. All companies should have to reduce their emissions." Seventy-seven percent also found convincing (22% very) the argument, "Requiring all companies to lower their emission levels the same amount will force them to adopt new technologies that may be expensive in the short run but will be economically beneficial in the long run." This is consistent with the popular view (discussed above) that reducing greenhouse gas emissions will ultimately benefit the economy. [9]

At the same time though, majorities-albeit much more modest ones-found the pro arguments convincing. Fifty-five percent found convincing (14% very) that "If companies are not allowed to buy and sell their emission allowances, the costs of lowering emissions will be substantially higher than presently estimated for the average American household." Similarly, 53% found convincing (11% very) the argument that "If we do not let companies buy and sell emission allowances, this would be unfair to companies for whom it is more expensive to lower their emissions, and overall would make it more costly to reduce emissions." [10]

Finally, asked, "Now, having considered these arguments, do you favor or oppose permitting companies to buy and sell their allowances to emit greenhouse gases?" 62% said they opposed the idea while 34% said they favored it. [11]

Another indication of the possible softness of the opposition to this kind of idea was the public response to an international system for trading emission rights as part of the Kyoto Treaty that PIPA explored in a 1998 poll. Initially 61% were opposed to such a system. However, when given the information that the cost of compliance with the Kyoto Treaty had been estimated to be $50 a month without such a regime, as compared to $10 a month if it were instituted, 66% then said they would favor it. (See Willingness to Accept Costs)