Americans want the U.S. to act on climate change — even if it goes alone

A massive new study shows that voters are ready for the government to forge ahead even without an international agreement


We're starting to get on the same page. (David McNew/Getty Images)
We’re starting to get on the same page. (David McNew/Getty Images)


By Neil Bhatiy, The Week

The conventional wisdom on climate change is that the issue is politically toxic. But it turns out the American people may be prepared for the kind of enormous undertaking that would be required to stem the catastrophic effects of climate change — including unilateral action by the U.S. government.

Last month, the Yale University Project on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication published Politics and Global Warming, a massive survey of 860 registered voters on the subject of the government’s role in fighting climate change. While the results appear to confirm that there is still a strong partisan divide on the issue, there is, as the report authors state, “much more going on beneath the surface.”

Perhaps the most crucial finding is that 62 percent of respondents are not content to have the U.S. wait on the sidelines unless and until other nations commit to emissions cuts. All but the most conservative of respondents said the U.S. should reduce its emissions “regardless of what other countries do.” Climate change skeptics have long argued that anything the U.S. does will not count for much if large polluters like India and China do not also take steps to curtail their carbon output. The Obama administration has argued that the U.S. has to exhibit leadership on emissions cuts (most recently through Environmental Protection Agency rules on existing and new power plants), and that the U.S.’s credibility at forthcoming climate talks in Paris rests on a demonstration of American commitment.

The poll numbers suggest many Americans intuitively understand this. The partisan breakdown is intriguing: While Democrats (especially liberals) are solidly behind this flavor of American unilateralism, Republicans are divided: 57 percent of self-described liberal and moderate Republicans would support that effort.

The poll also suggested fairly wide acceptance of several other benefits of emissions reductions, including public health improvements, energy self-sufficiency, and poverty reduction. There is fairly broad agreement that taking steps to reduce global warming will “[p]rovide a better life for our children and grandchildren,” a catch-all statement that indicates Americans are willing to make some sacrifices now in exchange for benefits down the line.

More concretely, most people seem to buy into the EPA’s argument that its emissions reduction plans will have public health benefits (54 percent total; 72 percent among Democrats and 46 percent among Republicans), an improvement from a previous Bloomberg poll that asked the same question.

Many Americans also look forward to climate action reducing dependence on foreign oil (55 percent total), though so far there is no climate-related public policy intervention in the offing that would drastically reduce oil consumption. The EPA regulations affect power plants, very few of which are oil-fueled, and our declining oil imports over the past half decade can largely be attributed to domestic drilling efforts, especially extraction of tight and shale oil. The polling suggests, however, that the American people closely correlate the end-result of climate action with energy security.

The only result that may give climate hawks pause was the benefit that polled as the least popular: That addressing climate change would improve U.S. national security. Even among liberal Democrats, it is not an easy sell (47 percent); it does not even break 30 percent with moderate or conservative Democrats and only 24 percent for Republicans as a whole. Previous studies show that adopting this frame is unlikely to convince conservatives to take climate change seriously (David Roberts has written previously on the “boomerang effect” of such arguments). Indeed, only on poverty reduction is there less agreement than national security improvement.

The belief that climate change and national security are not interrelated is prevalent despite repeated warnings from the U.S. intelligence and defense communities. As The Week‘s Ryan Cooper put it in a recent piece, the imperatives for risk management and self-preservation with regard to climate change are understood very well among the military. There are two points worth making about this.

The first is that it is a relatively novel and recent development to think about climate change in national security terms. People typically think of climate change as an environmental problem, rather than a security one, so it is no surprise that saving plant and animal species and preventing destruction of life scores much higher. Additionally, aside from military responses to natural disasters — such as the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami or the 2013 typhoon that devastated parts of the Philippines — there is no headline event that would cause people to link climate and national security.

The second point is that, on some level, the fact that public opinion is not catching up with some sectors of elite opinion is not necessarily an immediate cause for concern. That the argument is not making inroads with Main Street is less of a problem than it not influencing policy in executive departments. While Congress has abdicated its responsibility on climate change legislation, the Obama administration has been pro-active.

Still, what these findings suggest is that the steady drumbeat of analysis on climate change is having a positive effect. People are generally aware there is a problem, and are generally supportive of policies to fight it, even going so far as to say the U.S. can strike out ahead of other countries. People also recognize that benefits will accrue in such a way as to eventually justify the cost. While there is still a motivated minority resisting these findings, the Yale–George Mason report confirms they are nothing more than that: A minority.

The Vegetables Most Americans Eat Are Drowning In Salt And Fat

This isn't exactly what a healthy serving of veggies looks like.Lauri Patterson iStockphoto
This isn’t exactly what a healthy serving of veggies looks like.
Lauri Patterson iStockphoto

By Maanvi Singh, NPR

Popeye and our parents have been valiantly trying to persuade us to eat our veggies for decades now.

But Americans just don’t eat as many fruits and vegetables as we should. And when we do, they’re mainly potatoes and tomatoes — in the not-so-nutritious forms of French fries and pizza, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Americans eat 1.5 cups of vegetables daily, on average, the USDA finds. But the national nutrition guidelines recommend 2 to 3 cups a day for adults. And more than half our veggie intake comes from potatoes and tomatoes, whereas only 10 percent comes from dark green and orange veggies like spinach, carrots and sweet potatoes.

Of course, potatoes are great on their own — they’re a good source of potassium. But most Americans eat them with a hefty side of fat and sodium. According to the USDA’s handy chart, at home, most people get their potato fix in the form of chips. And when eating out, about 60 percent of the potatoes we consume are fried. Baked potatoes are also popular, but most people don’t eat the skin — a great source of fiber that fills you up.

Tomatoes start out healthy as well, and they’re a good way to boost your vitamin A and C intake. Tomato sauce, on the other hand, can pack in a lot of hidden sugar and salt. While a cup of raw tomato has about 9 milligrams of sodium, canned tomato sauce can contain more than 1,000 milligrams of sodium per cup, according to the USDA.

And even potatoes and tomatoes in their healthy forms don’t make for a complete, balanced diet. Americans eat far less fiber than they should, the researchers say, and fiber is found in dark green and orange veggies. As we’ve reported, fiber can make you gassy, but it’s essential to a healthy microbiome.

After a 2002 government nutrition report found that higher fruit consumption correlated with a lower body mass index but not vegetable consumption, USDA researchers decided to look more into how Americans are getting their vegetables.

“We started thinking about it, and realized it’s quite common to just pick up a piece of fruit and eat it as-is,” says Joanne Guthrie, a nutritionist at the USDA’s Economic Research Service who co-authored the report. “But that wasn’t the case for vegetables.” Vegetables often need to be peeled, cut and cooked, so they’re just not as handy.

So maybe this tomato and potato finding isn’t a huge shocker. Just a few years ago public health experts were debating whether school lunch programs should get to count a slice of pizza as a serving of vegetables, and fries have garnered their share of negative publicity in recent school lunch battles, too.

But, as Guthrie tells The Salt, the report is a reminder that we need to pay more attention to how we prepare our vegetables. “We all want to have a healthful diet,” she says. So mind the sugar and sodium, and branch out from pizza and French fries.

Administration takes steps to ensure Americans signing up through the Marketplace have coverage and access to the care they need on January 1

Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Today, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced additional steps to help ensure consumers who are seeking health insurance through the Health Insurance Marketplace smoothly transition to coverage that best fits their needs.  HHS continues to look for additional steps to take to make this process easier for consumers.
The steps taken today include:
  • Requiring insurers to accept payment through December 31 for coverage that will begin January 1, and urging issuers to give consumers additional time to pay their first month’s premium and still have coverage beginning Jan. 1, 2014.
  • Giving people enrolled in the federal Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan (PCIP) the chance to extend their coverage through Jan. 31, 2014 if they have not already selected a new plan. PCIP is a transitional bridge program that provides people with health conditions who could otherwise be shut out of the insurance market or charged more because of their pre-existing condition quality, affordable health insurance until options become available in the Marketplaces.  The additional month gives this vulnerable population additional time to enroll in a plan and ensure continuity of coverage.
  • Formalizing the previously announced decision giving individuals until December 23, instead of December 15, to sign up for health insurance coverage in the Marketplaces that would begin January 1.
  • Strongly encouraging insurers to treat out-of-network providers as in-network to ensure continuity of care for acute episodes or if the provider was listed in their plan’s provider directory as of the date of an enrollee’s enrollment.
  • Strongly encouraging insurers to refill prescriptions covered under previous plans during January.
“We are providing additional flexibility to consumers across the country to ensure they have access to coverage options that begin on January 1, 2014,” said Secretary Sebelius.  “The Department is committed to providing consumers with the information they need to pick the coverage option that works for them and their families.”
Other ways the administration is working to provide consumers with a smooth transition to coverage include:
  • Working with health insurers on options to smooth this transition such as allowing people who come in after December 23 to get coverage starting January 1 or sooner than February 1;
  • Working with insurers and consumers to make sure that they know whether their doctor or prescriptions are covered before they choose a plan, and how to get care they need during the transition (e.g., receiving a drug not covered by your plan if your doctor deems it medically necessary);
  • Educating consumers who recently received cancellation notices about the possible option to extend their old policy or enroll in a new plan; and
  • Continuing outreach to consumers who began the application process through the Marketplace and experienced technical difficulties.
HHS is committed to meeting consumers where they are in the health coverage process, helping them access and shop for quality, affordable insurance. 
Consumers with questions are encouraged to call the call center at 1-800-318-2596 or visit where they can Find Local Help.

Americans just aren’t buying that climate-denial crap anymore

By John Upton, Grist

Looks like Fox News and Congress are becoming ever more intellectually isolated from the American people, perched together on a sinking island of climate denialism.

Stanford University Professor Jon Krosnick led analysis of more than a decade’s worth of poll results for 46 states. The results show that the majority of residents of all of those states, whether they be red or blue, are united in their worries about the climate — and in their desire for the government to take climate action.

“To me, the most striking finding that is new today was that we could not find a single state in the country where climate scepticism was in the majority,” Krosnick told The Guardian.


In every state surveyed for which sufficient data was available:

  • At least three-quarters of residents are aware that the climate is changing.
  • At least two-thirds want the government to limit greenhouse gas emissions from businesses.
  • At least 62 percent want regulations that cut carbon pollution from power plants.
  • At least half want the U.S. to take action to fight climate change, even if other countries do not.

This map shows the percentage of state residents who believe global warming has been happening:

Click to embiggen.
Committee on Energy & Commerce
Click to embiggen.

Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress continue to block climate action. Many of them are so idiotic as to claim that global warming doesn’t exist, that it’s not a big deal, or that it’s caused by forces beyond the control of humans. How could Congress be so out of touch with the people it represents? Fossil fuel campaign contributions and lobbyists don’t help, nor does the bubble in which the lawmakers live. Here are some reflections from the research summary:

We have seen through these surveys that contrary to expectations, Americans support many of the energy policies that have been discussed over the years and are willing to pay some amount to have them enacted. This runs contrary to the idea that the reason why congress is not enacting these policies is because there is not public support and that the public would be unwilling to pay. It is unfair to blame the public for the lack of policies enacted by the federal government on these issues. Why has legislation action been so limited with regard to reduction of greenhouse gas emissions? Two possibilities include that legislators have decided to ignore their constituents or that they are simply unaware of the public consensus on these issues.

“These polls are further proof that the American people are awake to the threat of climate change, and have not been taken in by the polluting industries’ conspiracy of denial,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), one of the co-chairs of a congressional climate change task force. “Now it’s time for Congress to wake up and face the facts: climate change is real; it is hurting our people, our economy, and our planet; and we have to do something about it.”

Want to know what your neighbors think about climate change? Click here for fact sheets on all the states studied. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Global warming survey shows support for civil disobedience

Source: Climate Connections

national survey finds that many Americans (24%) would support an organization that engaged in non-violent civil disobedience against corporate or government activities that make global warming worse.

Moreover, 13% say they would be willing to personally engage in non-violent civil disobedience for the same reason.

“Many Americans want action on climate change by government, business, and each other,” said lead researcher Anthony Leiserowitz, PhD, of Yale University. “The fact that so many Americans would support organizations engaging in civil disobedience to stop global warming  – or would be willing to do so personally – is a sign that many see climate change as a clear and present danger and are frustrated with the slow pace of action.”

Another key finding of the survey is that, in the past year, Americans were more likely to discuss global warming with family and friends (33% did so often or occasionally) than to communicate about it using social media (e.g., 7% shared something about global warming on Facebook or Twitter, 6% posted a comment online in response to a news story or blog about the topic, etc.).

“Our findings are in line with other research demonstrating that person-to-person conversations – about a wide variety of topics, not just global warming – are still the most common form of communication,” said Dr. Leiserowitz. “The notion that social media have completely ‘taken over’ most of our social interactions is incorrect. For example, we find that Americans are much more likely to talk about extreme weather face-to-face or over the phone than through social media.”

Furthermore, Americans are most likely to identify their own friends and family, such as a significant other (27%), son or daughter (21%), or close friend (17%), as the people who could motivate them to take action to reduce global warming.

“Our findings show that people are most willing to listen to those personally close to them when it comes to taking action against global warming,” said researcher Ed Maibach, PhD, of George Mason University. “In fact, if someone they ‘like and respect’ asks them to take action about global warming, a third say they would attend a public meeting about global warming or sign a pledge to vote only for political candidates that share their views about global warming, among other things.”

These findings come from a nationally representative survey – Climate Change in the American Mind – conducted by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication.