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Survey: Majority of Americans want states to take the lead on climate change

Jun 13, 2017

A majority of Americans believe states should take the lead to address climate change if the federal government fails to act.

That’s one of the findings of the latest in a series of National Surveys on Energy and Environment.

Sarah Mills is with the Center for Local, State and Urban Policy at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan.

She and her team conducted this survey before President Trump announced the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. Mills notes that Trump demonstrated early on in his presidency that the federal government was going to step back on environmental policy.

“The [survey] question was, ‘if the federal government fails to act, do you believe it’s your state’s responsibility to take the lead?’” says Mills. “And we found 66% said that they should be taking the lead. And that holds up - there’s majorities of Democrats and Republicans who believe that it’s their state’s responsibility to step in and act on climate change.”

Mills says that for the most part, people were supportive of steps that had previously been taken by states, such as renewable energy mandates that require a certain percentage of energy from solar or wind.

“We also see that a number of other policies that some states are considering, a carbon tax or a cap and trade where people buy or auction permits to emit carbon, are less popular. People just don’t know about them,” she says.

And sometimes, support of an issue is simply a matter of phrasing. When asked about energy mandates, Mills says some people were less supportive than when they were simply asked if more wind and solar should be used in the U.S.

Views on climate change

For a number of years now, the survey team has been asking questions about climate change.

In this survey, they found 70% of Americans believe that there is solid evidence of climate change. Mills says that’s the same as the group’s 2016 findings, and matches the high from 2008.

She says they found even climate change deniers largely support renewable energy.

“So obviously, it’s not for environmental reasons,” says Mills. “One of the questions that we asked on this survey is whether they think that these renewable technologies create jobs, and we see that even if you don’t believe in climate change, a wide majority say that they do think that wind and solar energy do create jobs.”

You can hear more in our interview with Sarah Mills above.