Americans want to fight climate change, but will they pay for it?

While a majority of Americans acknowledge that climate change exists, far fewer are eager to pick up the tab when it comes to fixing the issue, a new poll reveals.

Matthew Brown/AP/File
Smoke rises from the Colstrip Steam Electric Station, a coal burning power plant in Colstrip, Mont., in 2013. A majority of Americans now acknowledge the need to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions to combat climate change, but fewer are willing to out money toward the effort.

More Americans now acknowledge the existence of climate change and the need to combat it, but far fewer see the task as something for which they should be held financially responsible, according to a new poll.

The poll, conducted by the Energy Police Institute at the University of Chicago and the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, found that 65 percent of people think climate change is an issue the government needs to address, but many are unwilling to pay any money to stop it. But the findings did uncover a change in Americans’ views on the validity of climate change: 77 percent said climate change was happening, while 13 percent were unsure. Only ten percent denied its existence.

“These findings confirm that there is a shift underway in how concerned all Americans are about climate change,” Michael Greenstone, the director of the Energy Policy Institute, said in a statement. “It is becoming clear that people are seeing more and more that it is worthwhile to invest some money today to help reduce the odds of the worst climate damages.”

The main determinant in whether or not participants would be willing to use their wallets as a weapon against the effects of climate change? Political party affiliation. Eighty-four percent of Democrats polled said it was the government’s responsibility to do something about climate change, compared to just 43 percent of Republicans.

Forty-two percent of the poll’s respondents said they would not voluntarily pay even $1 a month toward preventing climate change, while 29 percent would agree to pay $20 and another 20 percent said they would pay $50.

Researchers found that Democrats consistently said they would pay more than Republicans to stop climate change: respondents’ income, location, or level of education played a far smaller role in their answers than how they cast their votes.

Many respondents did favor a boost in federal regulations and cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. The poll gathered data from more than 1,000 Americans in all 50 states, and just over half said they would like the US to impose regulations that would lead to a decrease in coal consumption. An even higher number – 91 percent of Democrats and 77 percent of Republicans – said that the nation should attempt to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, even if other nations fall back on the pledges they made in the Paris Agreement, a climate change deal seeking to cut carbon emissions globally that was negotiated by almost 200 countries.

“While climate change has in the past eight years become an increasingly divisive issue in American politics, we do find widespread agreement that the United States should be a leader on this issue globally,” Trevor Tompson, director of The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research at the University of Chicago, said in a statement. “Americans aren’t particularly hopeful that any country will meet its obligation under the Paris Agreement, but more than 7 in 10 in each political party believe that the U.S. should at least try to make progress even if other countries do not.” 

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