Most Americans say climate change is a crisis, new study shows

Most Americans support climate policies, according to a recent poll, even as Congress seems stuck as they negotiate President Joe Biden’s “Build Back Better” agenda. 

The nationwide poll found 55% of Americans support a type of clean energy standard that would decrease the use of fossil fuels and increase the use of renewable energy, according to the survey of adults by The AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago.

Sixteen percent of those surveyed oppose the policy, while 28% are unsure of whether a clean energy standard, also known as a clean electricity performance program, should be implemented. 

But there is an ideological divide on the issue. Three out of four Democrats support the initiative, more than the 45% of Independents and 35% of Republicans who favor it. An equal number of Republicans are neither in favor nor oppose the idea, while 30% are against it. 

Implementing a clean electricity performance program was a marquee part of Mr. Biden’s plan, but has been taken off the table as negotiations have progressed. Swing vote West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin opposed the policy. 

Manchin also opposed a carbon tax. According to the poll, 52% of Americans would support a carbon fee if it raised their energy bills by $1. Support wanes if potential bills go up more than that, however, when respondents learned a $1 fee increase would result in a tax rebate, support for a carbon tax grew to 58%. 

Other popular policies include investing in electric vehicles. Forty-three percent of Americans support a requirement to make all new vehicles electric, versus 31% against. Mr. Biden set an executive order in August aiming to make half of all new cars sold in 2030 zero-emissions vehicles.

However, most Americans oppose giving money to developing countries to help them develop their own clean energy sources and become more climate-resilient. Only 46% support international climate financing, while 33% are undecided and 21% are opposed. Mr. Biden has announced a quadrupling of America’s foreign climate finance since he took office — in keeping with promises signed in the Paris Agreement.

Americans are more passionate about climate change than ever before, according to the study.

59% of those surveyed view climate change as a “very” or “extremely important” issue, a 10-point increase from 2018. A majority of Democrats and more than a third of Republicans agree. Only 22% of Republicans said the issue was that critical in 2018. 

American attitudes towards climate change are less influenced by politicians than they are their own experiences, specifically with weather. One-third of Democrats say Democratic leaders have a lot of influence on their views, while 14% of Republicans say the same about GOP leaders. Extreme recent weather events are what influence opinions most. 51% say it affects their views on climate change — more than two-thirds of Democrats and 32% of Republicans. 

Outside of federal policy, Americans are working to reduce their own carbon footprints. According to the study, 60% have purchased energy efficient appliances, 44% have reduced how much they drive and 32% have eaten less meat. 

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