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Climate Change and Carbon Management: Has the U.S. Transcended Partisanship?

As scientific evidence quantified the increased rate of climate change in the last 50 years, this poignant topic pushed to the forefront of political policy and subsequently emerged as a source of partisan dissent in the U.S. Original questions pertaining to the validity of climate change are no longer under scrutiny, but instead transitioned to what can be done to mitigate climate change.

At the onset of the 2020 presidential election the Hobby School of Public Affairs at the University of Houston and UH Energy conducted a survey to assess public attitudes toward climate change and support for policies aimed at emissions reduction, as well as respondents’ willingness to pay for low-carbon electricity and fuel. One thousand individuals aged 18 or older in all 50 states and the District of Columbia participated in the survey, with an additional 500 Texas residents surveyed for a cumulative 1,500 respondents.

The study reveals where voters aligned and diverged across party lines, acting as a starting point toward understanding what constituents want, what they value, and how to find a navigable way forward. Both Biden and Trump voters are concerned with climate change and support the adoption of carbon management, which presents a timely opportunity for bipartisanship on climate change mitigation and emissions reduction. Our findings also reveal that public support can accelerate the pace of policy transition and assure energy producers that the cost of methane abatement will be shared by consumers as well.

Findings show bipartisan support for capping methane emissions – a potent greenhouse gas – for example, as well as support across party lines for carbon management to mitigate climate change. The willingness to pay for methane abatement amongst most Trump voters and an overwhelming majority of Biden voters suggest an avenue for bipartisanship. The bipartisan support for the adoption of carbon management is a reflection of how much the U.S. has moved on the issue of emissions reduction and addressing climate change.

But a palatable lack of understanding regarding deployed emissions reduction tools and policy mechanisms, such as emissions trading systems, cap and trade and carbon dividends, appears widespread across all voters. A common pain point for voters is the associated cost of the energy transition. Although Trump voters expressed greater levels of disinterest in low-carbon alternatives compared to Biden voters, the share of those not interested declines by nearly half when voters are informed about the cost of transition, irrespective of the magnitude of the increase.

Highlights

  • A majority of respondents believe that climate change is happening, including 58% of Trump voters. However, among these Trump voters who believe in climate change, a majority do not believe climate change is caused by human activity.
  • More than two-thirds of Biden voters and a majority of Trump voters hold governments of developing and developed countries responsible for climate change. Biden voters were two to three times more likely to attribute responsibility to multiple stakeholders, including governments of developed and developing nations, the energy industry and individual behavior, than Trump voters.
  • While 57% of Biden voters agreed that oil and gas companies could remain profitable and create new jobs if they invest in carbon management, only 26% of Trump voters agreed. However, the largest share of Trump voters (28%) neither agreed nor disagreed.
  • More than three-fifths of Biden voters said that the government should fund and support research and development if a price on carbon were introduced in the US, whereas 25% of Trump voters agreed. A third of Trump voters said that the government should use the revenue from a carbon price to reduce the deficit or grant a rebate to taxpayers.
  • Nearly three-quarters of Trump voters support expanding the country’s pipeline network for natural gas projects. Support proved significantly lower among Biden voters (22%), though 33% were neither opposed nor supportive, suggesting room for partisan agreement.
  • Nine in ten Biden voters agreed that oil and gas companies should adopt carbon management technologies, compared to about 45% of Trump voters. Again, a number of Trump voters neither agreed nor disagreed (26%).
  • More Trump voters than Biden voters were not interested in carbon-neutral fuels (81% vs. 40%), and few voters thought an increase of $1.70 per gallon offered good value for carbon-neutral fuel. Most Trump voters expressed disinterest in owning an electric vehicle.
  • More than twice as many Trump voters relative to Biden voters (74% vs. 32%) declined to pay any amount for solely renewable energy for their homes. An estimated $250 increase per month on electric bills for renewable energy was deemed too expensive by a majority of both Trump and Biden voters. A larger share of Biden voters thought the increase was expensive but affordable.
  • Most voters expressed disinterest in paying for natural gas-based electricity produced without venting and flaring. However, 24% of Trump voters and 34% of Biden voters said that they could certainly afford a $5 increase in their monthly electricity bill for this low carbon alternative.
  • Twice as many Trump voters as Biden voters declined to pay more for electricity produced with a $40 per ton tax on carbon emissions. While a third of Biden voters said they could afford a $20 increase in their monthly electricity to pay for the tax on carbon emissions, only 12% of Trump voters said they could afford it. Five times as many Biden voters said that a $20 increase offers good value for a carbon tax.

Report

Media Release

 

Principal Investigators

Gail Buttorff, Co-Director, Survey Research Institute and Assistant Instructional Professor, Hobby School of Public Affairs

Francisco Cantú, Co-Director, Survey Research Institute and Associate Professor, Department of Political Science

Ramanan Krishnamoorti, Chief Energy Officer, UH Energy and Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Petroleum Engineering and Chemistry

Pablo M. Pinto, Director, Center for Public Policy and Associate Professor, Hobby School of Public Affairs

Researchers

Aparajita Datta, Graduate Assistant, UH Energy and PhD Student, Department of Political Science

Yewande O. Olapade, Post-Doctoral Fellow, Hobby School of Public Affairs

Acknowledgements

The research team would like to thank our colleagues at the Hobby School of Public Affairs, UH Energy, UH Marketing and Communications, and the Center for Carbon Management in Energy for supporting and actively engaging in the study. Their valuable contributions and feedback are greatly appreciated.

Carbon Management: Changing Attitudes and an Opportunity for Action

Between October 15 and 22, 2020, the Hobby School of Public Affairs and UH Energy conducted a survey of 1,500 respondents to assess public opinion towards climate change, support for policies aimed at curbing carbon emissions, and the public’s willingness to pay for decarbonized electricity, gas, and fuel.

We find that reducing the human carbon footprint is a salient concern among respondents in the US, as well as in Texas, the center of energy production in the country. That concern translates to expectations of policy changes and environmental stewardship practices by the government, firms, and consumers. The survey also revealed that there has been a significant shift in public opinion in Texas, with respondents expressing views similar to the rest of the country.

While there is broad-based support for reducing emissions and concern about climate change, our survey shows that respondents had overall little knowledge of climate policies and mitigation efforts, such as cap and trade or a carbon tax. Read the full report to learn more.

Highlights

  • About 80% of Americans and almost 81% of Texans say they believe climate change is happening and almost two-thirds of respondents are either very or somewhat worried about climate change. Among those who believe in climate change, 75% believe that it is caused mostly by human activities.
  • About two-thirds say oil and gas companies should adopt carbon management technologies. More than 50% of respondents believe that the government should promote, incentivize, and subsidize carbon management technologies.
  • By far, the largest share of respondents (43%) believe that if the government were to implement a tax on carbon emissions, it should use the revenue to fund and support research for energy and the environment.
  • 64% of people nationally, and 61% of Texans, say hydraulic fracturing has a negative effect on the environment.
  • Almost two-fifths of respondents either strongly or somewhat support the expansion of natural gas pipelines; 35% neither supported nor opposed it.
  • Mitigation strategies aren’t well understood. 61% have heard of carbon taxes, while less than half are familiar with carbon management and just 33% have heard of carbon pricing. Younger people and those with more education had higher levels of awareness.
  • More than 70% of respondents said that the governments of developed countries as well as the oil and gas industry were either very or somewhat responsible for climate change; however, attributing responsibility to various entities increased with respondents’ issue knowledge.
  • Over 90% of respondents said they would be willing to pay a non-zero amount on carbon-neutral fuel; 82% were willing to pay $1 to $5 more. Only about a quarter of respondents were willing to pay $1-10 more per month on their electricity bill for 100% renewable energy. However, Texans are willing to give up a higher amount for renewable energy compared to respondents from other states.
  • Over 30% of respondents reported they are willing to pay between $1 and $10 more per month for natural gas-based electricity produced without methane flaring or venting and 35% are willing to pay between $11 and $50 more.
  • Although one-third of respondents said they were not interested in buying natural gas-based electricity produced without flaring or venting for their homes, a quarter of respondents said they could certainly afford to pay this increase and over 20% believed that the increase offers good value. 30% of Texans said they could certainly afford a $5 increase on their monthly electricity bill and another 30% said it offered good value.
  • Nearly 70% of respondents were willing to pay more than $10 more per month on their electricity bill if the US were to set a price of $40 per ton of carbon dioxide. When it comes to carbon-neutral fuel, however, consumers were much less willing (and able?) to pay more. 27% said that a $1.70 increase per gallon would be too expensive for them and 30% said they were uninterested in buying a carbon-neutral fuel. Less than 10% believed the increase represented a good value for carbon-neutral fuel.

Figures

You may have heard that the world's temperature has been changing over the past 100 years, a phenomenon referred to as climate change. What is your personal opinion regarding whether or not this phenomenon is happening?

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Belief in climate change harm to self and future generations

2.png

Agree or disagree: oil and gas companies should adopt carbon management technologies

3.png

Agree or disagree: government should promote, incentivize, and subsidize carbon management technologies

q13_4_wt.png

Report

Media release

 

Principal Investigators

Gail Buttorff, Co-Director, Survey Research Institute and Assistant Instructional Professor, Hobby School of Public Affairs

Francisco Cantú, Co-Director, Survey Research Institute and Associate Professor, Department of Political Science

Ramanan Krishnamoorti, Chief Energy Officer, UH Energy and Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Petroleum Engineering and Chemistry

Pablo M. Pinto, Director, Center for Public Policy and Associate Professor, Hobby School of Public Affairs

Researchers

Aparajita Datta, Graduate Assistant, UH Energy and PhD Student, Department of Political Science

Yewande O. Olapade, Post-Doctoral Fellow, Hobby School of Public Affairs