Public Opinion and Climate Policy

Public Opinion and Climate Policy

Laser Talk

Question:  What does the public think about climate change and carbon pricing?

Answer:  People are getting the message that climate change is real and putting a price on carbon is a good way to address it.

In March 2018, two universities – Yale and George Mason – issued a report [1] showing that 70 percent of Americans agree global warming is happening, outnumbering those who don’t think it is by 5 to 1. The percentage who attribute it to human activities has grown from 48 percent in 2014 to 57 percent in 2020, with only 32 percent still attributing it – incorrectly – to natural cycles.

Yale University has also produced Climate Opinion Maps [2,3,4,5] using a statistical model to show how well people understand climate facts, risk, and policy right down to the state, county, and Congressional district level. Their latest results show a slow but steady increase in climate concerns across the country. Importantly, the realization that most scientists are in agreement about human causation of global warming increased from 41 to 55 percent.

On the policy side, Yale’s 2020 survey also showed that 68 percent of Americans favored a revenue-neutral plan to “require fossil fuel companies to pay a carbon tax,” with only 31 percent opposed. [4] Even in the most fossil-dependent states, more than 55 percent supported this policy option. That matches a 2014 poll from Stanford, the New York Times, and Resources for the Future [6] which found that requiring companies to pay a greenhouse gas tax and then giving “all this tax money … to all Americans equally” was favored by 67 percent to only 31 percent opposed.

While the specific poll language and methods differ, these reports show that the public approves of a policy that imposes a price on greenhouse gas emissions and then returns all of the money to American households.

In a Nutshell: Americans are increasingly convinced that climate change is happening, it’s primarily human-caused, and most scientists agree. More than two-thirds of Americans consistently support a carbon-based tax on fossil fuel producers, including a majority in the most fossil fuel-dependent states.

  1. Leiserowitz, A., et al. “Climate Change in the American Mind.” Yale Program on Climate Change Communication & George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication (17 Apr 2018).
  2. Howe, P., et al. “Yale Climate Opinion Maps – U.S. 2014.” Yale Program on Climate Change Communication (6 Apr 2015).
  3. Marlon, J., et al. “Yale Climate Opinion Maps – U.S. 2016.” Yale Program on Climate Change Communication (2017).
  4. Marlon, J., et al. “Yale Climate Opinion Maps – U.S. 2018.” Yale Program on Climate Change Communication (Aug 2018).
  5. Marlon, J., et al. “Yale Climate Opinion Maps – U.S. 2020.” Yale Program on Climate Change Communication (2 Sep 2020).
  6. “Global Warming National Poll: Part III.” Resources for the Future (Apr 2015).

This page was updated on 05/06/21 at 16:20 CDT.