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Protesters demand climate action in New York City on October 18, 2021.

Protesters demand climate action in New York City on October 18, 2021. (Photo: Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Despite Big Oil Roadblocks, Poll Shows Majority in US Support Climate Action

Amid congressional inaction, solid majorities of U.S. adults favor policies to slash greenhouse gas pollution, a new Gallup survey found.

Kenny Stancil

A survey published Monday shows that most adults in the U.S. support six proposals to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that lead to rising temperatures and increasingly frequent and intense extreme weather, a finding that comes as congressional lawmakers who own tens of millions of dollars worth of fossil fuel industry stocks continue to undermine climate action.

Gallup's annual environment poll, conducted by telephone from March 1 to 18, measured public support for a half-dozen policies designed to mitigate the fossil fuel-driven climate emergency.

It found that support for specific measures "ranges from 59% in favor of spending federal money for building more electric vehicle charging stations in the U.S. up to 89% for providing tax credits to Americans who install clean energy systems in their homes."

Gallup gauged support among U.S. adults for six climate policies

"Americans are most supportive of tax credits or tax incentives designed to promote the use of clean energy," Gallup noted. "They are less supportive of stricter government standards or limits on emissions and policies that promote the use of electric vehicles."

While President Joe Biden signed a fossil-fuel friendly bipartisan infrastructure bill into law last November, a reconciliation package that includes many of the green investments backed by solid majorities of U.S. adults has yet to reach his desk due to the opposition of all 50 Senate Republicans plus right-wing Democratic Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) and Joe Manchin (W.Va.), who was the target of protests over the weekend.

Manchin, who rakes in roughly half a million dollars per year from his family's coal empire and is drowning in political contributions from oil and gas corporations while his constituents are projected to soon face the worst flood risks in the U.S., has frequently inveighed against his party's Build Back Better Act by asserting that the nation's so-called "brutal fiscal reality" makes further federal spending unwise—skyrocketing Pentagon expenditures excepted.

Even as GOP lawmakers and their conservative Democratic counterparts engage in budget deficit fearmongering and peddle the dubious claim that the economic costs of climate action outweigh the ecological benefits, Gallup found that 53% of U.S. adults are more concerned about the environmental risks of not passing legislation to slash greenhouse gas pollution, compared with 43% who say they are more worried about the potentially negative economic effects of enacting such policies.

Democrats and Republicans diverge significantly on this question. Roughly two-thirds of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (68%) think the risk of economic harm, including a larger deficit, from policies seeking to limit emissions is greater than the risk of cascading, life-threatening disasters that scientists warn are virtually guaranteed in the absence of robust decarbonization efforts. Just 22% of Democrats and Democratic leaners share that view.

According to Gallup:

A broader question in the survey that asks about prioritizing environmental protection versus economic growth yields similar results: 53% say protecting the environment is the greater priority, and 42% say economic growth is.

Gallup has asked about this environment versus economy tradeoff frequently since 1984. Americans have almost always prioritized the environment, but in weaker economic times, they have been less likely to do so. Between 2009 and 2013, when the U.S. was emerging from the Great Recession, Americans were more likely to say economic growth should be the greater priority. The lone exception during this time came in May 2010, after a major oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Currently, with the U.S. facing high inflation, record gas prices, and a relatively uneven recovery from the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic, the margin in favor of environmental protection is relatively small. Before the pandemic, in 2019 and early 2020, Americans prioritized environmental protection by roughly two to one.

There are also sharp partisan differences on this question, with 67% of Republicans and Republican leaners saying that more precedence should be given to economic growth versus 78% of Democrats and Democratic leaners who say that environmental protection should be prioritized.

These broader environmental attitudes are reflected in respondents' opinions about the specific climate policies tested in the survey.

Democrats overwhelmingly support all six proposals, with no less than 76% in favor of each. GOP voters, meanwhile, do back some measures to limit greenhouse gas emissions despite their stated preference to prioritize economic growth.

"Majorities of Republicans are in favor of tax credits for people who install clean energy systems, tax incentives for businesses that use alternative energy, and higher fuel efficiency standards for vehicles," Gallup found. "Republicans are about as likely to favor as oppose limits on methane gas emissions. They oppose both proposals for promoting electric vehicle use, with no more than 40% in favor of each."

Gallup gauged support among U.S. adults for six climate policies

According to Gallup, "43% of Americans worry 'a great deal' about climate change, and another 22% worry 'a fair amount' about it."

The survey comes just days after the United Nations warned in its latest climate report that "without immediate and deep emissions reductions across all sectors, limiting global warming to 1.5°C is beyond reach."

Denouncing the inaction of lawmakers, many of whom have a financial stake in the profitability of Big Oil, climate scientist Peter Kalmus wrote last week that "if everyone could see what I see coming, society would switch into climate emergency mode and end fossil fuels in just a few years."

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