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Monday, October 5, 2009

Americans Not Likely to Be Upset if No Climate Change Bill Is Passed This Year

It's unlikely that the American public is going to be greatly upset by reports that Congress will not be passing a new energy/climate change bill this year.

A nytimes.com blog posting by Darren Samuelsohn of ClimateWire quotes top White House energy adviser Carol Browner: “I think we'd all agree the likelihood that you'd have a bill signed by the president on comprehensive energy by the time we go in December is not likely." (This is a significant issue in light of the very important international summit on the environment scheduled for Copenhagen in December.) A story by Julie Eilperin in The Washington Post makes the same point: “But on Friday, Obama's top domestic climate adviser, Carol Browner, said it was "not likely" that a final bill would be signed by the president before Copenhagen.”

Samuelsohn’s piece goes on to discuss the possible implications of a new environment/climate bill on the 2010 midterm elections. He implies that our elected representatives are worried about passing a potentially controversial and reaction-generating bill leading into an election. One does not have to look further than the current healthcare reform process to recognize how controversial efforts to pass major new policy laws can become.

The issue is the attempt to deal with climate change by changing the way energy is produced. That includes the ever-controversial "cap and trade" proposals.

Where is the will of the people on this issue?

Climate change and/or energy policy is not a significant priority for the public at this time. I don’t think Americans will be catastrophically depressed by the fact that new legislation relating to climate change and/or energy is being postponed. No research I’m aware of shows that the environment generally, and the global warming more specifically, register high on the American public's list of most important problems and/or priorities. In fact, global warming is way down the list of environmental problems from the public's perspective. Check out our latest Gallup report on this here.

Asked spontaneously to name the most important problem facing the country, as we do every month, only about 1% say the environment and 1% energy.

I just reviewed various ways that other polling firms have dealt with measuring the people’s priorities.

The most recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll doesn’t even include the environment or climate change in its list of priorities. It does include energy. And finds that 4% choose energy as the top priority for the nation. A Bloomberg poll included “climate change” per se as one of the five “most important issues facing the country right now” respondents were asked to choose among. Climate change was dead last with 2% of the choices. A Diageo Hotline poll this summer gave registered voters four choices, including “energy and climate change initiatives” as most important in determining how "you vote in the elections for Congress in 2010". The results: “energy and climate change initiatives” was chosen by 7%, dead last on their list.


Of course, in all of these polls the economy is the dominant choice. Our research, in fact, shows that one big problem for advocates of a high intensity focus on climate change is that economic priorities are so dominant. At least at the moment. As I indicated in this story I wrote back in March: “For the first time in Gallup's 25-year history of asking Americans about the trade-off between environmental protection and economic growth, a majority of Americans say economic growth should be given the priority, even if the environment suffers to some extent.”

We just don’t see Americans clamoring for Congress to push forth legislation that would focus on the environment, climate change, or energy policies.

This is despite the best efforts of former vice president Al Gore and many others who have toiled ceaselessly to convince the average American of the importance of and necessity for change relating to climate change and the environment. As one pollster said in an interview with U.S. News & World Report earlier this year: "It's Al Gore's greatest frustration. We seem less concerned than more about global warming over the years . . . Despite the movies and publicity and all that, we're just not seeing it take off with the American public. And that was occurring even before the latest economic recession."

Actually, that pollster was me, as you discovered if you clicked on the link. I was extrapolating a little, given that I have not, in fact, talked with Al Gore personally, and do not know for sure if the failure of the public to come around to his position on global warming is his greatest frustration. But it’s a reasonable inference that the former vice president and current Nashville resident is very worried about the apparent lack of impact of his efforts to raise the public’s consciousness about climate change and associated problems.

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