Research & Commentary: Survey Shows American Public Not Particularly Concerned About Climate Change

Published May 28, 2021

A new survey from the American Energy Alliance, published in late April, finds a solid majority of voters are entirely uninterested in paying more money to combat climate change or get the United States to 100 percent renewable energy usage by 2035.

The survey of 1,000 voters, conducted in February by MWR Strategies, found that the median answer to the question of “How much would you personally be willing to pay each year to address global warming?” was just $20, with 37 percent of respondents answering “zero” and 44 percent of respondents answering less than $10. Also, when asked “What is the most pressing issue facing the United States right now?”, climate change did not even appear in the top eight most popular answers, with just 13 respondents (1.3 percent) identifying it as the most pressing issue facing the country, and just another 25 respondents (2.5 percent) saying it was the second-most important issue.

Altogether, 50 percent of respondents answered that climate change was either not a problem, a minor problem, or a moderate problem, while just 24 percent said they believed it was a “crisis.”

When asked how much they would be willing to pay to achieve 100 percent renewable energy usage by 2035, the median response was just $10, with 36 percent of respondents answering “zero,” and 42 percent answering less than $10.

Carbon-dioxide taxes also faired poorly, with 62 percent answering the did not support the idea of a federal tax, in part because 69 percent said they did not trust the federal government to spend the revenue generated by the tax wisely. Another 59 percent opposed any sort of tax increase on energy.

“The results indicate that voters want and expect minimal federal involvement in the energy sector,” says an accompanying AEA press release. “This sentiment is driven partly by cost considerations, partly by lack of trust in the government’s competence or its intentions, and partly by a strong and durable belief in the efficacy of private sector action.”

The pushing of consumers toward electric vehicles is also not popular. Seventy-five percent of respondents are opposed to making new gasoline-powered car sales illegal, with 80 percent opposed to the government mandating what kind of car people can buy, and 61 percent answering they were not in favor of any sort of government subsidy to the purchasers of electric vehicles.  

“Voters have been clear that they don’t want to pay anything remotely near what the Biden Administration wants to charge them for government solutions to global warming that produce no meaningful results,” said Thomas Pyle, president of AEA. “Nor do voters want the federal government telling them what kinds of cars they should buy and drive. It is time for the Biden team to give up on their dreams of making energy more expensive and limiting consumer choice with respect to cars and trucks.”

State legislators should not mandate the use of renewable sources in electricity generation, and should not make any attempt at total electrification, as doing so would be incredibly unpopular, have a minimal effect on the environment while simultaneously being extremely expensive, and most of the burden of this shift would fall directly on those lower-income families who could least afford it.

Further, they should halt attempts at passing carbon-dioxide tax legislation and end all tax breaks and subsidies encouraging the broad-based adoption of electric vehicles. Such government subsidies and incentives make for poor public policy because they encourage rent-seeking, subvert the market’s natural mechanism for matching supply with demand at the correct price, and clash with other government incentives, all of which creates adverse fiscal consequences. 

Policy Brief: Protecting the Environment from the Green New Deal
This Heartland Policy Brief by Paul Driessen, policy advisor to the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, reviews the largely ignored environmental damage that would result from the expanded use of renewable energy mandated under the Green New Deal.

The 100 Percent Renewable Energy Myth
This Policy Brief from the Institute for Energy Research argues that a countrywide 100 percent renewable plan would put the U.S. economy in jeopardy. The brief investigates the intermittency, land requirements, capacity factors, and cost of transition and construction materials that limit the ability of the U.S. to adapt to 100 percent renewable energy.

Legislating Energy Poverty: A Case Study of How California’s and New York’s Climate Change Policies Are Increasing Energy Costs and Hurting the Economy
This analysis from Wayne Winegarden of the Pacific Research Institute shows the big government approach to fighting climate change taken by California and New York hits working class and minority communities the hardest. The paper reviews the impact of global warming policies adopted in California and New York, such as unrealistic renewable energy goals, strict low carbon fuel standards, and costly subsidies for buying higher-priced electric cars and installing solar panels. The report finds that, collectively, these expensive and burdensome policies are dramatically increasing the energy burdens of their respective state residents.

Less Carbon, Higher Prices: How California’s Climate Policies Affect Lower-Income Residents
This study from Jonathan Lesser of the Manhattan Institute argues California’s clean power regulations, including the state’s renewable power mandate, is a regressive tax that harms impoverished Californians more than any other group.

The U.S. Leads the World in Clean Air: The Case for Environmental Optimism
This paper from the Texas Public Policy Foundation examines how the United States achieved robust economic growth while dramatically reducing emissions of air pollutants. The paper states that these achievements should be celebrated as a public policy success story, but instead the prevailing narrative among political and environmental leaders is one of environmental decline that can only be reversed with a more stringent regulatory approach. Instead, the paper urges for the data to be considered and applied to the narrative.

Costly Subsidies for the Rich: Quantifying the Subsidies Offered to Battery Electric Powered Cars
This report from the Pacific Research Institute examines what local, state, and federal governments are spending on subsidies for electric car purchases and manufacturing, and the installation of charging stations. According to the report, 79 percent of electric vehicle plug-in tax credits were claimed by households with adjusted gross incomes of greater than $100,000 per year. Households with incomes greater than $50,000 per year claimed 99 percent of the credits.

Short Circuit: The High Cost of Electric Vehicle Subsidies
This Manhattan Institute study concludes the widespread adoption of electric vehicles in the United States will likely increase air pollution compared with new internal combustion vehicles. At the same time, subsidies for ZEVs and the required infrastructure to support them benefit the higher-income consumers who can afford to purchase them at the expense of lower-income consumers who cannot.

Climate Change Reconsidered II: Fossil Fuels – Summary for Policymakers—summary-for-policymakers
In this fifth volume of the Climate Change Reconsidered series, 117 scientists, economists, and other experts assess the costs and benefits of the use of fossil fuels by reviewing scientific and economic literature on organic chemistry, climate science, public health, economic history, human security, and theoretical studies based on integrated assessment models (IAMs) and cost-benefit analysis (CBA).

The Social Benefits of Fossil Fuels
This Heartland Policy Brief by Joseph Bast and Peter Ferrara documents the many benefits from the historic and still ongoing use of fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are lifting billions of people out of poverty, reducing all the negative effects of poverty on human health, and vastly improving human well-being and safety by powering labor-saving and life-protecting technologies, such as air conditioning, modern medicine, and cars and trucks. They are dramatically increasing the quantity of food humans produce and improving the reliability of the food supply, directly benefiting human health. Further, fossil fuel emissions are possibly contributing to a “Greening of the Earth,” benefiting all the plants and wildlife on the planet.


Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this subject, visit Environment & Climate News, The Heartland Institute’s website, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database.

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