Over at The Week, I have a new piece looking at recent polling on how Americans perceive climate change. While the topline numbers are positive, the poll is also the source of some concern. More and more Americans believe climate change is a problem, but a stubbornly high number still think of it as something that will affect “other” people—those in other countries or in future generations. Many Americans are also reluctant to sacrifice financially to combat climate change—they are averse to higher taxes or electric bills. These factors have profound consequences for how Americans rank climate change as an issue compared to other policy problems:
Consider past polling on the seriousness of climate change before and after the 2008 financial crisis. According to the Pew Research Center, the percentage of people who saw climate change as a “very serious” problem polled in the low-40 percent range between 2006 and 2008. By October 2009, however, that number had plummeted 10 percentage points, as concerns over the beginning of a recession took hold in the public imagination. While people were still thinking of climate change as a threat, fears about general economic well-being took precedence.