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U-M study: Majority of Americans favor government addressing climate change

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Large majorities of Americans now favor all levels of government taking responsibility for addressing climate change, a University of Michigan study released Wednesday revealed. The Fall 2012 climate change survey, one of the National Surveys on Energy and Environment (NSEE), showed that 73% of respondents thought the federal government should take at least some responsibility for reducing greenhouse gases, 72% felt that state governments should also do so, and 68% wanted local governments to shoulder some or a great deal of the responsibility as well.

"This represents a significant increase in public support from the past two years for all levels of government to address climate change," said U-M Professor Barry Rabe, director of the Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy (CLOSUP) at U-M's Ford School of Public Policy in a press release. "This also coincides with findings of considerable support for some specific policy options to reduce greenhouse gases."

The study found two policy options intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions had overwhelming support, renewable electricity standards and mandatory increases in vehicle fuel efficiency. Support for both options declined significantly when the cost of purchasing electricity or vehicles increased 10% as a result of the policy. Despite the decreased enthusiasm because of higher cost, both proposals still maintained majority support.

A third policy option, increasing taxes on the burning of fossil fuels to reduce greenhouse gases, also called a carbon tax, had only a narrow plurality of support when cost was not mentioned, but was opposed by a majority if it increased the cost of energy 10%. However, should such a tax be imposed, only 21% would favor repealing the tax, while the rest thought the money should be used to fund renewable energy research or lower the deficit.

Government Responsibility for Climate Change

A majority of those surveyed not only felt that the federal government should take some responsibility for addressing climate change, they felt that the federal government should take a great deal of responsibility. Fifty-one percent gave that response to the survey, while 22% responded that the federal government should take some responsility. Only 21% thought that the federal government should take no responsibility, while 6% were not sure.

Of the majorities who thought that state and local government ought to take responsibility for combating climate change, large pluralities thought that they should join the federal government in taking a great deal of responsibility. Forty-four percent felt that state governments should take a great deal of responsibility along with 28% thinking they ought to shoulder some responsibility. Fewer people thought climate change was the duty of local governments, with 38% supporting a great deal of responsibility and 30% some responsibility. Even so, these were record levels of support for these sentiments, as Rabe noted in a video.

"We found that in this round, higher levels than ever before supported a great deal of engagement by state and local governments, and a significant jump, over 50 percent, in those who said that the federal government should take a great deal of responsibility on this issue."

Renewable Electricity Standards

When no specific cost was attached to achieving 25% renewable electrical energy from wind, solar, or geothermal by 2025, 59% strongly supported the idea and 19% somewhat supported it, while 12% strongly opposed the measure and 5% somewhat opposed it with 5% not sure. Raising the price of electricity 10% reduced those in favor but still retained a majority of 60%, with 35% strongly supporting renewable electricity and 25% somewhat supporting it. Those opposed rose to 18% strongly opposed and 17% weakly opposed with 4% not sure.

Rabe noted that these results seem ironic in light of the defeat of Proposal 3, which would have enshrined a goal of 25% of Michigan's electricity coming from renewables by 2025. An overwhelming majority of Americans support what a majority of Michigan's residents voted down.

Increased Mileage

The other popular measure, increasing mileage standards for cars, reflects a proposal to increase vehicle fuel economy from the current level of 30.2 miles per gallon to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. This is similar to a policy that has been approved by the Obama Administration and is now moving into its early stages of implementation.

With no specific cost, 60% strongly supported and 17% somewhat supported the mileage standards described, with 12% strongly opposed, 6% somewhat opposed, and 6% not sure. With a 10% cost increase, a majority still favored the higher mileage, 38% strongly favored the standards, 27% somewhat favored them, with 18% strongly opposed, 12% somewhat opposed, and 5% not sure.

Carbon Tax

Without a cost figure, a bare plurality of respondents favored a carbon tax. Twenty-nine percent strongly favored the idea, 19% somewhat supported it, 33% strongly opposed it, 13% somewhat opposed it, and 7% were not sure. The opposition jumped when the 10% cost increase was mentioned, rising to 41% strongly opposed, 14% somewhat opposed, 23% strongly supporting, 17% somewhat supporting, and 5% not sure.

While opposition to a carbon tax stiffened with the mention of increased cost, it was not strong enough to prompt a plurality to move for its repeal. If implemented, 36% would instead favor the tax receipts to be used for renewable energy research, 21% would want to repeal the tax, 16% thought the money should go to reducing the deficit, 8% for tax rebate checks to citizens, 6% for highways and bridges, 5% for reducing the payroll tax, and 10% weren't sure what to do with the money.

The NSEE Fall 2012 Climate Change Survey

The NSEE Fall 2012 climate change survey has an error of 3.5%. The telephone survey of 917 Americans took place between September 26 and October 11. It was completed before powerful storms hit the East Coast and spurred concerns about their possible connection to global warming.

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