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Americans want to do something on climate -- just not the right thing

Today’s New York Times carries an op-ed that trumpets supposedly encouraging numbers about what Americans want Congress to do about climate change. Under the triumphant headline, The Climate Majority, Jon A. Krosnick argues that most people still buy climate science -- and they even favor federal action to deal with rising temperatures. But the very data Krosnick presents also indicate that Americans dislike the most rational options the government has to curb carbon emissions.

Fully 86 percent of our respondents said they wanted the federal government to limit the amount of air pollution that businesses emit, and 76 percent favored government limiting business’s emissions of greenhouse gases in particular…. Large majorities opposed taxes on electricity (78 percent) and gasoline (72 percent) to reduce consumption. But 84 percent favored the federal government offering tax breaks to encourage utilities to make more electricity from water, wind and solar power.

And huge majorities favored government requiring, or offering tax breaks to encourage, each of the following: manufacturing cars that use less gasoline (81 percent); manufacturing appliances that use less electricity (80 percent); and building homes and office buildings that require less energy to heat and cool (80 percent).

Thus, there is plenty of agreement about what people do and do not want government to do.

And, unfortunately, what people want the government to do is expensive, underwhelming, or both.

The costs of command-and-control regulation of business emissions get passed right on to the very respondents of that survey, without any rebate or assistance to ameliorate the sting, as better policies would provide. Subsidies for cleaner cars and other such technologies might supplement a more comprehensive policy, but they are extremely pricey, and, as a recent Harvard study points out, they don’t actually do that much to reduce fossil fuel use. All of the policies respondents considered rely on Congress or government regulators deciding exactly which technologies to favor, an approach guaranteed to waste Americans’ time and money.

All, that is, except the one that Americans apparently detest: simply taxing fossil fuel use. Putting a price on the burning of these dirty fuels will shift consumption patterns and business practices, and it will unleash private ingenuity and capital to invest in carbon-cutting technologies, some of which we can’t even anticipate yet. And most Americans shouldn’t have to pay a dime more -- the proceeds from the tax can be rebated directly back to them, making most of them whole. A similar logic would operate in a well-designed cap-and-trade program. But, it seems, the T-word still provokes automatic disapproval, and the nation’s leaders have been terrible at re-branding this obviously rational approach to average Americans.

I appreciate Krosnick’s effort. But if America’s climate policy reflects his poll results, this is bad news.

By Stephen Stromberg  | June 9, 2010; 1:27 PM ET
Categories:  Stromberg  | Tags:  Stephen Stromberg  
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What tax have you ever heard of where the people get their money back? If that were the case, why even tax them at all?

Its because its different people who will be paying the tax vs. being given its proceeds. The average poor american will be forced to pay the Carbon tax, and the average rich carbon trader will get the proceeds.

Some money of course will be syphoned off to generate new propaganda brow-beating the public into accepting the tax, and increasing it. That's what real environmental sustainability is, getting the taxes to pay for the propaganda that convinces the people to pay the taxes.

Posted by: ecocampaigner | June 9, 2010 1:43 PM | Report abuse

"Large majorities opposed taxes on electricity (78 percent) and gasoline (72 percent) to reduce consumption. "

I'd say that's the most important point of the whole article.

Also note that these polls are completely inaccurate because they only offer 2 general opinions:

A) Man is causing Climate Change

B) The climate isn't changing

Notice the absence of "The Climate is Changing, but Man is not to blame". That's the question they are terrified to include in the polls.

Posted by: ecocampaigner | June 9, 2010 1:48 PM | Report abuse

The only things that energy taxes will do are take money from average people and give it to the government ... does anyone really expect that higher gas taxes will make people drive their cars SIGNIFICANTLY less, when in many, many communities there are NO viable options to driving your own car? Are we supposed to bring ice cream or other frozen foods home from the supermarket, from more than a mile away, on a 95 degree DC summer day, via walking or bicycles? Are we supposed to swelter in stuffy homes or offices because the thermostats have been raised to uncomfortable levels? Would any of those measures even reduce energy consumption by any truly appreciable amount? I doubt it ...

Posted by: ToughChoices | June 9, 2010 3:06 PM | Report abuse

The usual conservative creed, socialize the cost, privatize the profit. Pretty bass-ackwards to let the corporations pollute all they want and tax the people to clean up the mess.

Posted by: dnahatch1 | June 9, 2010 3:25 PM | Report abuse

*As a matter of fact, people WERE driving less when gas prices topped $4/gallon in the summmer of 1998. The difference here would be that rather than having the extra revenue go to oil companies - such as BP, a name you may have heard recently? - the money could be devoted to research into alternative fuels, or battery technology, etc.
*No one is suggesting that you not drive to the grocery store. Even at $4/gallon, the gas needed to drive a mile, or even a few miles, once or twice a week should be in most budgets.
*The tax you mention should and hopefully would go to developing new, cheaper and more efficient artificial climate technologies. And yes, it's possible to work when the office is not 65 degrees in the summer and 70 in the winter. I've done it! There is no universally recognized right to be as comfortable as possible at all times. I'm pretty sure that the colonists, pioneers, others in US history would have laughed at that. As, for that matter, would most others in the world who are not millionaires.
*Finally, yes they WOULD decrease energy use. That's basic economics... and see above in re: a gas tax - would also provide revenue for the development of both alternative sources of energy and more efficient means of using it.

Posted by: bokonon13 | June 9, 2010 3:34 PM | Report abuse

correction - "summer of 2008," not "1998."

Posted by: bokonon13 | June 9, 2010 3:35 PM | Report abuse

I did not say such taxes would not reduce energy use at all--just that they wouldn't reduce it by very much, and certainly not by as much as scientists claim is necessary (some have even called for the absurdly impossible--not using fossil fuels at all). And there is indeed an implied right to comfort in our nation's history--right under the "pursuit of happiness" reference in the Declaration of Independence. As for what the colonist and pioneers would have said about the federal government telling them how much energy they could use ... well, that's one of the reasons why the Founders put the 2nd Amendment into the Constitution, isn't it? To prevent government tyranny!

Posted by: ToughChoices | June 9, 2010 3:47 PM | Report abuse

"Americans what to do something on climate -- just not the right thing"

Mr. Stromberg sir, don't you mean:
"Americans WANT to do something" NOT
"what" to do something.

Holly Moses!

Well I guess passing Journalism School doesn't require passing English class.

Posted by: lindalovejones | June 9, 2010 4:20 PM | Report abuse

Though I disagree with most of what Stromberg says, I'll give him a pass on the "what" in the headline--most headlines are written by copy editors, not the author of the piece itself (this "pass" is revoked, of course, if Stromberg did write the headline ...)

Posted by: ToughChoices | June 9, 2010 4:23 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps its the Americans who want to do the right thing, and the Journalists who want to do the wrong thing.

Posted by: ecocampaigner | June 9, 2010 4:27 PM | Report abuse

Thank you Mr. Stomberg for correcting your heading. Now can I have a job?

Posted by: lindalovejones | June 9, 2010 5:59 PM | Report abuse

Every week Soldiers are coming home in Body Bags while shoppers flock to buy Chinese products which funds new Jobs and Industries in China.

The USA Defense Budget for 2009 was $693.6 Billion while China’s is roughly $150 Billion. USA investment in Clean Energy was $18 Billion versus China’s $35 Billion plus $100 Billion for High Speed Rail in 2009 and $120 Billion for 2010. China, Japan and South Korea are heavily committing more resources than the USA in investing in the Jobs and Technologies of the future while we are mired in two wars and subsidizing Big Oil, Coal, and Livestock pollution.

We have to Stop subsidizing Oil, Coal and Livestock Pollution. I’d rather Invest in Creating new Jobs and Industries that in turn attracts Private Investment and creates new Tax Revenue, than Subsidize Pollution that should be paid for by the Polluters.

When over Ten Million are Recently Unemployed, when Troops are Dying in Two Wars, when Americans are in need, it's time for those of us with Jobs and who are not in War Zones risking our lives, to step up to the Plate and Help Pay to create the Clean Energy Jobs and Employment Opportunities our Country needs.

We must End Bush era $2 Trillion in tax cuts, End the $15 Billion a year in feedstock and Cotton Subsidies, End Fossil Fuel Subsidies for Multi-Billion dollar profiteering Oil companies; and Tax Large Scale (Oil, Coal, Livestock) Polluters and Imported Oil to Pay for new Jobs legislation.

Clean Energy Technologies creates Jobs, Private Investment and Tax Revenue while Producing Products we can sell to the world. Creating Clean Energy Jobs producing products we can sell will reduce our national debt. China is happy to keep subsidizing our debt so we can purchase products made in China.

Posted by: liveride | June 9, 2010 6:52 PM | Report abuse

"Failure to re-brand an obviously rational approach". Astonishing arrogance.

Posted by: JiminVaBch | June 9, 2010 7:05 PM | Report abuse

Well, not being a highly trained journalist, I don't quite see how rebating the tax back to the tax payers is going to make much difference, in either driving habits or funds available for research. Frankly, most folks I know are all for using less energy, more efficient appliances and cars, cost-effective alternatives, etc etc. But don't send that creepy self righteous multi-millionaire Algore to lecture us about how, unless we spend a trillion taxpayers dollars RIGHT NOW, the poor polar bears are all going to drown, the glaciers will melt and we'll all die of sunburn. Let's discuss options, but don't lie to us with hyperbole and phony statistics, and don't wreck what's left of our economy just so Al can feel better about his bogus Nobel Prize.

Posted by: Major94 | June 9, 2010 7:59 PM | Report abuse

A revenue-neutral carbon tax would not only avoid the evasion and market manipulation of cap and trade, it would reduce emissions, incentivize "green" R&D AND return the revenue to families already struggling under the weight of the current economic downturn. It's time for our representatives in Washington to put good public policy above political expediency and take another look at the solution that the vast majority of the world's leading economists and scientists agree is best: a carbon tax. It's a win for the environment and a win for the American people.

Posted by: SallyVCrockett | June 9, 2010 8:45 PM | Report abuse

Nobody said saving the planet was going to be cheap. Suck it up, Earthlings.

Posted by: steveandjanereed1 | June 9, 2010 9:00 PM | Report abuse

As usual, this piece of CAGW propaganda equates actual pollution with CO2. Burning coal in mid-USA power plants emits lots of real pollution: mercury, nitrogen compounds, sulphur compounds, and soot. These are harmful to people and other living things. The CO2 is a naturally occurring beneficial trace gas which helps plants grow and might make the planet a little warmer before the next ice age.

Reasonable people are in favor of reduced pollution, and many know someone who suffers from breathing polluted air. Only CAGW propaganda artists can equate CO2 to pollution, and it is gross negligence to focus on CO2 while allowing real pollution to continue.

Posted by: AGWsceptic99 | June 9, 2010 9:21 PM | Report abuse

A majority of Americans think the earth is only about 6000 years old.

The Republican party is inundated with Young-Earth-Creationists who abhor science. Many of them think we should let the earth fall into ruin because then Jesus will come back. Many of them also believe that rules to protect the environment aren’t just wrong, but, evil.

Read: Why Wouldn’t You Trust Climate Scientists?

There seems to be a common thread that runs between free market fundamentalism and religious fundamentalism. It stood out like a sore thumb in America's 2004 national election.

The American National Exit Poll (NEP) of 2004 included a measure of evangelical identification. Voters were asked the following question:

"Would you describe yourself as a born-again or evangelical Christian?" [Yes, No]

Of those who answered Yes, 79% voted for Bush.

It's too bad voters weren't asked, "Would you describe yourself as a born-again or evangelical Christian who is also a white Protestant, a young-earth creationist, and a global warming denier?" [Yes, No].

If they had, I am sure that number would be close to 100%.

Posted by: HarryBraun | June 9, 2010 9:21 PM | Report abuse

There is much nonsense on these CAGW blogs about spending money on windmills and other 'green' technology to increase jobs. The money so spent is driving Spain towards financial insolvency and reducing economic growth across Europe. Wasting money on windmills does nothing that benefits anyone except the mainly Chinese manufacturers and companies like GE that sell and install the junk. The windmills will not even be used after the Government subsidies end because they are environmentally harmful, ugly, and benefit no one except the people feeding at the trough from your money and mine.

Posted by: AGWsceptic99 | June 9, 2010 9:25 PM | Report abuse

To have any measurable effect on CO2 in the air, the US would have to virtually destroy its economy and standard of living, especially when China, India, and many others have absolutely no intention of hobbling themselves by doing the same. So let's pretend the US somehow managed to throw 10% less CO2 into the air over a 10 year period by taking the very drastic actions needed to have that affect. And then a volcano erupts somewhere, and EVERY BIT OF THAT "PROGRESS" IS INSTANTLY WIPED OUT!! No thanks. The only reason the idiots in Congress want "cap and trade" is to secure a new source of taxes to spend on more new programs to make ever more people dependent on government who will then vote for them to retain their entitlements. No thanks!

Posted by: CREEBOLD | June 9, 2010 10:18 PM | Report abuse

The carbon problem is a result of market failure: when markets set the price of oil and other fossil fuels, they don't factor in the cost of carbon cleanup, military action to keep supplies of oil flowing, or environmental regulation and cleanup. All they consider are production costs. This means that our government is actually SUBSIDIZING oil; these subsidies distort spending and investment choices. Adding a carbon tax would fix this problem.

So long as the carbon tax is applied equally to goods entering our country from overseas, it seems like a tax would help boost US manufacturing and add back local jobs. Also, a tax should be phased in gradually over time, so that there are no dramatic price shocks.

If we take measures now to accurately price carbon, we'll reduce our fossil fuel consumption and be better placed to handle oil crises, such as the one that took place in 2007. If China and India keep guzzling oil, they will be the ones to suffer as supplies run out, and they will be the ones lining up to buy green energy solutions from us.

Posted by: stellabella | June 9, 2010 11:56 PM | Report abuse

Don't forget that there are also hundreds of ways to conserve energy and clean water in the home. An individual household cannot do much I don't think about the actual price charged by their local utility, but they can reduce the amount of electricity, other forms of energy as well as clean water used in the household.

There are also many places to find out what others are doing which they find useful:

The above is an example of one such free home energy savings and water savings collection of what other households are doing to reduce their energy and clean water utiltiy bills in their own homes. It currently exceeds 500 of their ideas, of which:

400+ are simple and easy to do

275+ cost absolutely no money to do

115+ cost just a little money

120+ are clean water conservation suggestions

115+ are electricity reduction approaches

110+ are home heating savings tips

80+ are home cooling savings tips

People are doing a lot of great things and they are willing to tell anyone who will listen.

Start with the simple and no cost ideas and work your way up (in terms of complexity and cost) to save even more money by using less energy and water.

I hope this helps,

Posted by: Dan_DHRT | June 10, 2010 6:02 AM | Report abuse

Why is the Washington Post still talking about "Climate Change". That fraud was thoroughly exposed last year. What kind of suckers do you take us for?

Posted by: BinkyLover | June 10, 2010 8:31 AM | Report abuse

I think the "polls" mentioned are true in the sense that the majority of humans believe the climate is changing, it has a history of changing. The question is how is it changing and what can man do about it. It seems Mother Nature has pretty well got the upper hand and if man believes he can regulate Nature then I think he suffers from a hubris that needs to be reeled in. The same people that believe the climate is changing do not believe the scientists because they do not believe each other and they are working on theories not scientific facts. Their statistics are so small given history that they would not be used in a true study and they seem to have manipulated them in the form of "computer models" where they set the environment. So the question is what do we do? Well we certainly don't go ruin the world economy and put billions of people on a lower living standard in an effort to use to unproven and immature technology. We sit down and make a real plan and quit yelling that the sky is falling.

Posted by: staterighter | June 10, 2010 9:14 AM | Report abuse

As Krosnick pointed out in his NYT op-ed piece,survey questions need to be precisely worded to get a valid response.It didn't surprise me when respondents were asked if they would support an increase in the gas tax that a majority of the respondents responded negatively.However,if the respondents were asked if they would support a gas tax that weaned the country off foreign oil and whose proceeds would be rebated and used to create clean technologies,I bet that a majority would support such a tax.The President needs to lead the way by advocating a gas tax increase and explaining its benefits.Start by emphasizing that such a tax would create alternative energy sources and save American lives because the US would no longer fight wars over oil. Too bad our political class is such a bunch of cowards.

Posted by: johnbird1 | June 10, 2010 10:21 AM | Report abuse

Why does this paper continue to promote a proven lie. It is a HOAX. I could get any result I want by sticking bogus #'s into a bogus computer model. Remember Climategate?? Thats what it was about (besides the lies/destruction of data/peer pressure etc.....) remember the emails talking about how messed up the computer code was and how the data was corrupted and then was mysteriously "thrown out." Give me a break.

Posted by: j751 | June 10, 2010 2:07 PM | Report abuse

I find it hard to believe that there are people who believe global warming is a hoax. Also, I'm noticing that some of you commenter's are misunderstanding the purpose of cap and trade, or a carbon tax. If carbon becomes more expensive, then the nature of the market will dictate investment in technology to reduce carbon emissions, it is quite simple. And with proceeds being rebated back to consumers, they would feel no pain from it, only the gains of alternative energy. The carbon tax isn't meant to make an individual drive less, or turn off a lightbulb, that is almost (but not totally) inconsequential. The purpose is to corral private sector funds into the necessary technologies for a carbon free future.

I would also like to remind people that while carbon dioxide is an essential chemical compound, something we learn in middle school (don't be proud of yourself for knowing it) it is the intensity with which it is released, and the ever rising atmospheric concentrations that is worrisome.

Posted by: sorcerer2007 | June 10, 2010 7:11 PM | Report abuse

You are right, j751! It's hard to believe that there are still people who believe the ridiculous "man-made global warming" fairy tales. It seems they never heard of climategate! Or are they ACORN-type government workers paid with our money to help Obama and his comrades brainwash into submission?

There's NO global warming. Even the hoaxers changed "global warming" to "climate change" when they realized the earth is actually cooling.

Obama and his comrades obviously don’t believe their ludicrous man-made global warming fairy tales. They are ready to let companies emit CO2 as long as they pay! And Gore bought an 8-million mansion on a BEACH as he was trying to convince us that the oceans would take over beaches…

Those brainwashed to the point of wanting to destroy the economy to "prevent global warming" are behaving like the most primitive human beings who were duped into believing that human sacrifices would ensure them good weather. Human beings don't have the power to control climate! And killing the economy will not help the environment. Poor countries can't protect the environment. Just look at Haiti!

Posted by: AntonioSosa | June 14, 2010 12:38 PM | Report abuse

What is beyond revolting is that, while we are facing the oil spill crisis, Obama and his comrades are busy using the crisis to push their cap and trade/carbon tax SCAM down our throats! Rather than finding ways to solve the oil spill horrendous problems, they are busy finding ways to use those problems and the suffering they are creating to advance their SCAM!

Posted by: AntonioSosa | June 14, 2010 12:41 PM | Report abuse

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