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The American public wants climate change addressed, but dislikes the options

    Image of an orange sky with a bridge and buildings partially disappearing into the mist.
    Enlarge / The East Coast has had a chance to experience something that has become disturbingly familiar to the West.

    After rejoining the Paris Agreement and passing the Inflation Reduction Act, the US committed to halving greenhouse gas emissions by the end of the decade and net zero emissions by the middle of the century reach. That requires sweeping changes in everything from home appliances and cars to the way electricity is generated. Is the American public up for the challenge?

    The answer is a pretty resounding “no,” according to new polling data released by the Pew Research Center. While the country generally supports things like renewable energy, there is still strong resistance to taking personal actions such as replacing appliances. And the significant partisan gap in support to do anything has persisted.

    We must do something!

    In general, the American public supports action on climate change. Three-quarters of those surveyed said the US should participate in international efforts to combat climate change, and two-thirds say developing alternative energy sources should be the US’ top priority.

    Support for many climate policies is so high, especially if they don't directly affect the people being polled.
    Enlarge / Support for many climate policies is so high, especially if they don’t directly affect the people being polled.

    There is also broad support for specific climate-friendly policies. Tree-planting programs have near-universal support (89 percent of those polled), with a similar level of support for requiring companies to plug methane leaks from oil and gas wells. Large majorities (70 percent and above) supported policies that pushed companies to limit their emissions, such as tax credits for carbon capture development and emissions-based carbon taxes.

    In fact, more than 60 percent of people supported a demand that all power plants be zero emissions by 2040, an important step toward President Biden’s climate goals.

    As with most climate-related issues, there was a big partisan divide. A slim majority of Republicans believed we should prioritize fossil fuel production, including coal. But these opinions were strongest among older, more conservative Republicans. Younger and more moderate Republicans tended to break ranks on issues such as promoting carbon capture and entering into international climate treaties.

    Democrats, on the other hand, were almost united: 90 percent of them said renewable energy development should be the priority. Strong support for climate policy was widespread among left-wing participants.

    There were mixed thoughts about how the energy transition would proceed. Majorities or majorities believed it would improve the environment, create employment and limit the frequency of extreme weather. But they were fairly evenly split on whether it would increase energy costs and destabilize the power grid, with a majority believing it would drive up inflation in everyday goods.