Study: 83 Percent Want Action on Global Warming, Even With 'Economic Costs'

A large majority of Americans say 'the U.S. should make an effort to reduce global warming,' even if it impinges the economy.

Smokestacks release smoke into the air.

Nearly 83 percent of Americans say the United States should take action on climate change, "even if it has economic costs," according to a survey conducted in late 2013 by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason Center for Climate Change. The results were made public Wednesday.

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Barely a day after a Department of Energy official said new clean coal technology will likely raise wholesale prices by "70 to 80 percent," a new survey showed that a majority of Americans believe the United States should take action on climate change, regardless of whether it comes with a price tag, a survey by two leading climate change centers found.

The survey, conducted in November and December and made public Wednesday, found that 83 percent of Americans "say the U.S. should make an effort to reduce global warming, even if it has economic costs," according to the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and George Mason Center for Climate Change, which carried out the study

Six in 10 said the country should reduce its own greenhouse gas emissions no matter what other nations do, a number “that has remained fairly stable over the past few years,” the study found. 

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"There’s very strong, at least generic support for the American people for action," says Yale Project director Anthony Leiserowitz, who notes that the 83-percent figure encompassed those who would accept small, medium or large economic costs.

"It's giving you an overall view of people's willingness to support policy and national action," he says.

The results came just a day after S. Julio Friedmann, the Department of Energy's deputy assistant secretary for clean coal, told a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee that new carbon capture and storage technology – which stricter proposed Environmental Protection Agency emissions regulations would likely require for new coal power plants – would raise the wholesale cost of coal energy by "70 to 80" percent. 

He emphasized that this "substantial" increase was, in part, "because the price of coal is so low," but industry groups such as the American Coalition for Clean Coal Energy have pointed to the figure to argue that clean-coal technology remains "underdeveloped" and comes with "staggering" costs.

As many as 63 percent of Americans supported setting strict regulations on existing coal-fired power plants, the Yale and George Mason survey showed (only 59 percent supported it when "the policy [was] described as a directive by President Barack Obama to the EPA).

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Overall, 72 percent supported more funding for research into renewable energy, 71 percent backed tax rebates for drivers buying energy-efficient cars, 67 percent supported regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant and 59 percent backed eliminating fossil-fuel subsidies for the energy industry. 

Notably, 56 percent of Americans would willingly pay an extra $100 a year on their electric utility bills, if it meant power companies had to get at least 20 percent of their electricity from renewable energy sources.

The Yale and George Mason survey is conducted every six months. It found that Americans ranked energy independence as the eighth most important issue for the president and Congress, and global warming the 11th most important, out of 13 total. The economy, health care and the federal budget deficit took the top three spots.