Sierra Club
Sierra Sync
Grace McRaeBy Grace McRae
Polling & Research Strategist
NOV 2011
ºOccupy Wall Street
ºJobs Report

Climate Disruption: Is Extreme Weather the New Normal?

ClimateThis month, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a special report examining the link between extreme weather events and global climate change. The report – a culmination of a 2-year process involving 100 scientists and climate policy experts – concludes that climate change is indeed responsible for the rise in number of extreme weather events. IPPC says it is “likely” (a 66% to 100% probability) that the increased frequency of extreme weather events is a result of greenhouse gas emissions from human activity – including coal-fired power plants, fuels burned for transportation, and deforestation. Researchers note that “economic losses from weather- and climate-related disasters are increasing,” and they warn that more extreme weather events are coming our way this century. This year, Americans have endured a record-number of extreme weather events, such as intense summer heat waves, severe droughts in Texas and Oklahoma, and flooding in Mississippi. According to the National Climatic Data Center, extreme weather events in 2011 have already cost the United States over $50 billion in economic

Climate weather Sierra Sync ed5In response to the IPCC report, the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication released new data showing that a majority of Americans believe “global warming” made recent extreme weather events worse. Interestingly, people are most likely to believe that global warming intensified heat waves and droughts. They are less inclined to say that extreme snowfalls or hurricanes were made worse by global warming. I attribute this pattern to Yale’s use of “global warming” instead of “climate change” or (our favorite) “climate disruption.” The term “warming” inherently highlights rising global temperatures and ignores other climate changes (i.e. cold temperatures and more or less precipitation).

On behalf of Yale/GMU, Knowledge Networks interviewed 1,000 adults nationwide from Oct. 20 - Nov. 16; MoE ±3.0% points at 95% CI

Click here to learn more. TAKEAWAY: This report re-confirms that climate disruption is already happening, and that human activity is playing a role. Scientific evidence is mounting, yet many in Congress continue to deny that climate disruption is happening at all. Talking about the connection between climate and extreme weather can be a pathway to greater public concern and support for climate policies. The scientific evidence is consistent with what people intuitively understand: the changing climate is impacting the weather in our backyards and taking a toll on our pocketbooks. We must demand that our leaders combat climate disruption by moving America beyond dirty fossil fuels and towards a clean energy economy. We simply can’t afford to ignore climate disruption any longer.


Declining support for clean energy investments attributed to Republican skepticism (Pew/Washington Post)

In the face of the Solyndra controversy, public support for funding of renewable energy research has declined, with nearly the entire decline coming from Republicans. According to a new Pew Research/Washington Post poll, 68% of Americans favor increasing funding for research on wind, solar, and hydrogen energy, while just 26% oppose such investment. This represents a 6-point decline in support from 2010, and a 14-point drop from 2006. While there was little change in support among Democrats and Democratic-leaners from last year, support for federal funding for clean energy research fell by 9-points among Republicans and Republican-leaners.

While support for clean energy investments has fallen, this policy continues to be the preferred approach to address America’s energy needs. 58% favor more oil and gas drilling in U.S. waters and the same percentage favors more mining/drilling on federally owned land. Nuclear energy and ethanol subsidies receive less support (39% and 38% supportive, respectively). There are notable partisan gaps in support for these different energy policies. 78% of Republicans favor more mining and drilling on federal land, while just 46% of Democrats agree. An almost identical partisan gap is found in views of oil/gas drilling in U.S. waters. Democrats are more likely than Republicans to support ethanol subsidies and more funding for alternative energy research.

Most Americans (52%) think that government investment is necessary to develop new energy technology. About 4 in 10 (39%) say that businesses will produce needed energy technology without government support. Among Democrats and Democratic-leaners, 68% say government investment is needed while 24% say it isn't. On the other side, 59% of Republicans say that business will produce alternative energy without federal investment while 36% say the funding is necessary.

Pew Research interviewed 1,005 adults nationwide from Nov. 3-6; MoE +/-3.0% points at 95% CI

TAKEAWAY: Despite a significant decline in the past five years, there remains a relatively high level of bipartisan support for federal clean energy investment.  This Pew survey confirms that partisanship over the issue has taken its toll, especially in the wake of the Solyndra bankruptcy. Our message must fight against this polarization, and show how clean energy is working for all Americans.


65% of Americans support a revenue-neutral carbon tax (Yale/GMU)

Despite persistent concerns about the economy, Americans support a broad range of policies to address climate disruption and expand the nation’s clean energy economy.  A Yale University and George Mason University survey finds that 70% of American adults say that “global warming” should be a priority for the President and Congress – including 44% of Republicans, 72% of independents, and 85% of Democrats. Looking ahead to 2012, 52% say that a presidential candidate’s views on “global warming” will be “one of several important issues” in determining their vote. Just 2% say that climate views will be the “single most important issue” in their decision. 66% say that the United States should make a "large-scale effort" (26%) or "medium-scale effort" (40%) to reduce global warming, even if it has large or moderate economic costs. 73% of Americans support regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant, and 66% support signing an international treaty to cut emissions.

On a bipartisan basis, Americans support the concept of a revenue-neutral carbon tax that includes individual tax breaks. 65% would support "a shift in taxes that reduces the federal income tax that Americans pay each year, but increases taxes on coal, oil, and natural gas by an equal amount." Respondents were told that "this shift would be 'revenue neutral' (meaning the total amount of taxes collected by the government would stay the same), but would help create jobs and decrease pollution."

Whether or not Americans would support a $10/ton tax on fuels that "produce carbon dioxide (coal, oil, natural gas)" depends on what is done with the revenue. Researchers presented respondents with different carbon tax structures, each of which would slightly increase commodity prices. The most popular strategy is to reduce federal income taxes: If revenues are used to reduce federal income taxes, 60% support the carbon tax. If revenues are returned to Americans via an annual check, support drops to 49%. If revenues are used to reduce the national debt, just 44% support the tax. Without explanation of how revenue would be used, just 37% support the carbon tax.

Americans overwhelmingly (90%) believe that developing clean energy sources should be a priority for President Obama and Congress. Despite continued concern about the economy, 78% of Americans support funding renewable energy research, 78% support tax rebates for efficient cars and solar, and 63% support requiring utilities to produce at least 20% of their electricity from renewable sources (even if it costs the average household an extra $100 per year). On the other hand, 69% oppose federal subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, and 54% oppose ethanol subsidies. However, many Americans believe the expansion of offshore drilling is an effective strategy to address our energy needs (63% support expansion), but just 42% support building more nuclear plants.

Finally, this survey found that Americans don’t believe the environment and economy are at odds with one another. 54% of Americans say that protecting the environment "improves economic growth and provides new jobs," 31% say it has no effect, and just 15% believe it "reduces economic growth and costs jobs."

Knowledge Networks interviewed 1,000 adults nationwide from Oct. 20 - Nov. 16; MoE ±3.0% points at 95% CI

TAKEAWAY: These days, Washington treats “tax” like a four letter word. The notion that Americans will reject any new tax is purely a political myth. In reality, Americans are willing to consider a carbon tax – particularly one that raises taxes on dirty fossil fuel companies and relieves the individual federal tax burden. When we talk about taxing carbon, it’s critical that we explain how the tax revenues will be used. A revenue-neutral carbon tax that forces dirty energy companies to pay their fair share is consistent with America’s growing frustration over tax breaks for the affluent and for corporations. This poll suggests that when it’s positioned as a way to reduce income taxes, a carbon tax can be a political winner.

Occupy Wall Street

59% of Americans don't have an opinion about Occupy Wall Street's goals (Gallup & PPP) 

Despite extensive media coverage, public support for the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement has stagnated – most likely because widespread disapproval of the movement’s tactics. This week, Gallup found that 53% of Americans say they neither support nor oppose the OWS movement, while 24% support the movement and 19% oppose it. These numbers are virtually unchanged since Gallup’s October poll.  

When it comes to public opinion of the OWS movement’s goals, polls tell different stories. According to Public Policy Polling (PPP), just 33% of registered voters support the movement's goals, 45% oppose them, and 22% aren’t sure.  While support only dropped 2-points since PPP’s October poll (within the margin of error), opposition grew by 9-points. According to Gallup, 25% of American adults approve of the OWS movement’s goals (a 3-point rise in approval) while just 16% disapprove (1-point rise). The majority (59%) say that they don’t know enough about the goals to have an opinion. Why did PPP find a higher level of support? First, Gallup explicitly told respondents they could choose “don’t know” in the question wording, while PPP did not. Second, PPP surveyed registered voters while Gallup polled all adults. 

The biggest change in opinion between the October and November Gallup polls was in Americans’ disapproval of the way the OWS protests are being conducted: currently 31% disapprove of the movement’s tactics, up from 20% in October. Only 20% approve of the tactics, down from 25% last month. And according to PPP, while voters don’t care for the Tea Party (45% oppose Tea Party goals and 42% support them), they now prefer the Tea Party to the OWS movement (43% to 37%). Last month, voters preferred OWS to the Tea Party (40% to 37%). 

Gallup interviewed 996 adults nationwide from Nov. 19-20; MoE +/-3.0% points at 95% CI
PPP interviewed 800 registered voters nationwide from Nov. 10-13; MoE +/-3.5% points at 95% CI

TAKEAWAY: Widespread disapproval of the protesters’ tactics appears to be drowning out their actual message. Polls show that the public identifies with the OWS’ message of income inequality. Thus, the growing disapproval to OWS is likely due to concern about the “occupy” tactics – not the “Wall Street” message. Here at the Sierra Club, we must articulate the OWS goals that are most important for us: expanding economic opportunity and equality by moving America beyond dirty, dangerous coal and oil, and creating millions of new American clean energy jobs.

Sierra Sync Jobs Report

According to a new Gallup poll, Americans are most likely to trust small business owners and local business leaders when it comes to creating jobs in the United States. Four in five (79%) American adults say they trust small-business owners’ ideas and opinions “a great deal” or “a moderate amount.”  Similarly, 74% say they trust local business leaders on job creation. Americans put progressively less trust in state governors (57%), mayors and other government officials (56%) and President Obama (52%). Less than half of Americans trust Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress (44% and 43%, respectively) or Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke (40%).  

Gallup interviewed 992 adults nationwide from Oct. 29-30; MoE +/-3.0% points at 95% CI

TAKEAWAY: Facing stubbornly high unemployment numbers and a stagnant economy, Americans are most likely to trust small-business owners and local business leaders when it comes to creating jobs. They have less faith in their national leaders on this issue. The Sierra Club supports clean energy entrepreneurs, who are creating good-paying jobs here in America – even during an economic recession. Clean energy is putting Americans back to work and powering our economy.

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