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Parsing the Polls: Does US Public Opinion Realy Support a Strong Climate Policy?

The latest polls of US public opinion bring both good news and bad for the success of the COP21 climate talks now underway in Paris.

On the positive side, a new New York Times/CBS News poll finds that two-thirds of Americans think their country should join an international treaty requiring it to reduce emissions in an effort to fight global warming. That includes a slim majority of Republicans. When pollsters pointed out that such a treaty is likely to involve tradeoffs between stimulating the economy and protecting the environment, respondents favored protecting the environment by 54 to 34 percent.

Those numbers suggest the kind of strong public backing that US negotiators would need to achieve a treaty with real teeth in it. To most economists, whether conservative, progressive, or libertarian, “real teeth” can only mean carbon taxes or some other mechanism to subject frontline decision makers in households, businesses, and governments to the grinding, day-to-day pressure of market prices. Are you going to drive your Prius instead of your SUV to the store today? Are you going to serve a smaller steak for dinner? Are you going to diversify your giant energy company away from fossil fuels before it goes the way of Kodak? Probably not, if failing to act costs you nothing.

But before you get the your hopes up, let’s take a closer look at those opinion polls. US public support for strong action on climate change may be broad, but there are indications that it is also shallow and fragile. >>>Read more

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