Last week, the White House announced a sweeping new plan to slow the carbon emissions that threaten climate change. Bypassing a gridlocked congress, the plan calls for tougher emissions standards for power plants; raising efficiency standards for appliances, buildings and trucks; speeding up the leasing of public land for renewable energy projects; and hardening the nation's infrastructure to protect it from stronger storms and higher seas.
Initial response was predictable. Some business groups called the new policy a “war on coal,” and many news reports implied that business stands united in defense of fossil fuels. But a growing split now divides the business world. Many business owners and investors now call for action that protects the climate and frees America from dependence on oil from the Middle East.
At times like this, it helps to have real data. The American Sustainable Business Council released a poll last week that shows what small business owners really think about energy and climate issues. The poll tapped a national random sample of small business owners (defined as businesses with 2 - 99 employees). It has a margin of error of +/- 4.4 percent.
As you'd expect, small business owners tend to be more conservative and Republican than the public at large. In this poll, 36 percent of respondents were Republican, 33 percent independent and 19 percent were Democrats.
The polling showed that most small business owners acknowledge the threat of climate change and want sensible policies that deal with the threat. The first step is to stop subsidies that make oil, gas and coal look cheaper than they really are. Sixty-two percent of small business owners, including majorities of Republicans (58 percent) and Independents (67 percent), want the government to stop the subsidies.
At the same time, small business owners think that it's important that the U.S. builds competitive advantage in clean energy technologies and not cede the market to China and India. Strong majorities favor steps that would accomplish this, including 58 percent of the Republican owners polled and 81 percent of independents.
Small business owners think we need a combination of several approaches to lower our carbon emissions. They believe that part of the answer is to use energy more efficiently. A large majority supports a national goal of increasing energy efficiency by 50 percent over the next ten years, with more than 76 percent of Republicans in support.
But efficiency improvements are not enough. We also have to increase the amount of renewable energy used and decrease the proportion of coal, oil and gas used. A majority (63 percent) of small business owners support a national standard that 20 percent of our electricity must come from renewable energy sources. This too had bipartisan support, with more than 55 percent of Republicans in favor. At the same time, small business owners recognize that we'll need to burn fossil fuels in conventional power plants for a long time, so we should upgrade these power plants to emit less carbon dioxide. Again, a majority of business owners across political parties favor this course.
This poll confirms that most small business owners now support action to protect the climate. Meanwhile, larger companies have begun to shift their position. Last week, Honeywell, Walmart, Nike, Pacific Gas and Electric, DuPont, Mars, Symantic and many others expressed their support for the new proposals from the White House. Now, when business leaders say “a stable climate is good for business” they are referring to more than the interest rate climate and the regulatory climate.
David Brodwin is a cofounder and board member of American Sustainable Business Council. Follow him on Twitter at@davidbrodwin.