One of the frequent complaints voiced in green circles – well, amongst progressives in general – is that progress is impossible without eliminating corruption and high-stakes lobbying in Washington. We see reports and surveys like these all the time claiming that the majority of Americans broadly support “environmental causes.” If only corporations didn’t control Washington, the People would embrace meaningful environmental reforms. Unfortunately, according to a new white paper by Pike Research surveying Americans’ views on a variety of clean tech topics ranging from the LEED system to renewables, consumer attitudes are headed in absolutely the wrong direction for the planet. The survey of over 1,000 individuals shows that Americans have cooled to a variety of green technologies and policies, including hybrid vehicles, carbon offsets, and wind energy.
Now this survey may not be the most rigorous, probing, longitudinal studies of consumer attitudes, and accordingly I take it with a grain of salt when consumer “favorable” ratings drop 2% over a couple years, but two somewhat buried aspects of their data intrigued me the most. First, the overall rankings. The charts below show that Americans basically hold climate mitigation policies, namely cap and trade, in the same esteemed company as nuclear power – this less than a year since one of the worst nuclear disasters in history. People even think more highly of clean coal technology. Wow. That just stings. The world’s single best market-driven mechanism for placing reasonable constraints on carbon output, and it ranks near the bottom of the list. This is after Kyoto, after Copenhagen, after Katrina, after Inconvenient Truth, after years of freakish weather across the globe. I shudder to think at the responses they might have gotten if “carbon tax” had been a category.
But this brings me to the second big bombshell in the Pike survey: ignorance. We are apparently more familiar with clean coal, natural gas cars, and even smart meters than they are with concepts like cap and trade. The clean technology with which they were most familiar, solar, also happens to be the least controversial. Coincidence? (Actually, there are some cases of technologies that are non-controversial but NOT well understood, such as smart grid. People seem to love it almost as much as solar, they just have no idea what it is!)
Perhaps we’re not fighting willful, informed resistance here, we’re simply fighting a knowledge gap. The climate activist community isn’t going to be winning any policy battles in America’s stymied political environment anytime soon, but maybe some new thinking around public awareness is in order? Cap and trade ain’t sexy, but if over a third of respondents aren’t even familiar with the concept, it would appear the climate lobby could use some PR help.