Americans support climate change policies, especially those that give them incentives

By Janet Okay. Swim and Nathaniel Geiger 4 minute Learn

Because the Biden administration tries to construct support for brand spanking new climate and power insurance policies, a set of research provides some insights that may assist them enchantment to the widest viewers.

We’re social scientists who look at how folks take into consideration climate change options. In the studies, we explored how the general public responds to various kinds of insurance policies and why some are prone to be extra widespread than others.


For instance, which is healthier: incentives to chop emissions, akin to rebates for putting in photo voltaic panels, or disincentives, like a carbon tax? Does it matter whether or not those insurance policies goal people or companies? What about insurance policies that would scale back power use or change power sources from fossil to renewable power?

General, we discovered folks support climate change insurance policies, however they’ve preferences amongst differing kinds based mostly on the insurance policies’ anticipated environmental, financial and social impacts.

The who, what and the way of climate coverage

We used two totally different measures in two separate research to evaluate U.S. residents’ reactions to a set of climate and energy policy types. The 265 members ranged in age from 18 to 80 and had an roughly equal probability of figuring out themselves as Republican, Democrat or impartial.

These insurance policies assorted in three essential methods:

  1. How they promoted change: by incentives, akin to grants or rebates to encourage low-carbon actions, or disincentives, akin to charges or taxes to discourage high-carbon actions.
  2. Whom they focused: companies or people.
  3. What they focused: power provide, akin to switching to renewable sources, or power demand, akin to selling power effectivity and conservation.

The members shared their preferences, however additionally they estimated the environmental, financial and social results they thought every coverage would have. Understanding the affect those estimates have on the members’ views may assist policymakers make less-popular insurance policies extra palatable.

Lesson 1: Incentives over disincentives

We discovered that folks most well-liked insurance policies with incentives moderately than punishments—especially when the insurance policies utilized to people, but additionally for companies.


They stated they thought incentives could be higher for the surroundings and have extra financial and social web advantages than disincentives would.

Nevertheless, we discovered better tolerance of disincentives once they utilized to companies than once they affected people.

This tolerance was not a results of impressions of results on the financial system—in each circumstances, the members anticipated better financial advantages from incentives than disincentives.

As an alternative, members appeared to assume that making an attempt to change people’ behaviors—however not companies’ practices—with disincentives would have much less constructive social impression and be much less efficient. For instance, about one-third of the respondents thought the disincentives for people would have extra social harms than advantages, whereas solely about 10% thought the identical for different coverage choices.

Lesson 2: Clear power is healthier than much less power

Individuals additionally most well-liked insurance policies that would change the availability of power by growing renewable power and lowering fossil fuels greater than insurance policies that would lower the quantity of power folks use.

The research members thought growing renewable power and lowering fossil gasoline use would have better financial and social advantages than lowering the quantity of power used. For instance, 87% % indicated there could be extra financial advantages than harms from power provide insurance policies, whereas 77% indicated the identical for power discount insurance policies.

We discovered that the members’ political leanings had surprisingly little impact on relative preferences amongst all eight insurance policies.

Our previous research with College of Oklahoma postdoctoral fellow Lizbeth Benson additionally discovered that environmental advantages, and the anticipated financial penalties, contemplating each advantages and harms, affected which insurance policies folks support. Furthermore, the anticipated human impression of climate insurance policies – these may embrace well being, meals, security and human well-being – was much more strongly related to climate coverage support.

The restrictions of climate popularism

It may not always make sense for politicians to advertise the climate coverage with the best public support.


For instance, enacting some insurance policies that penalize people for actions that emit a number of greenhouse gases could also be needed to achieve the world’s climate targets, regardless of their relative unpopularity.

In fact, a climate coverage that doesn’t move is not going to cut back carbon emissions in any respect.

Our work additionally suggests a doable path ahead for selling less-popular insurance policies, akin to those with disincentives for people or that cut back power use. We discovered that these insurance policies are much less widespread as a result of folks are likely to consider they are going to be much less efficient and have much less of a constructive social impression.