U.S. voters favor carbon tax by 4-to-1 margin

January 31, 2013

Friends of the Earth:

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Sixty-seven percent of Americans would rather see the government tax carbon pollution rather than cut spending as a way of solving our budget problems. This is the result of a national survey of 1,000 voters by Mellman Group, a leading polling firm. It was conducted last month, at a time when raising taxes on wealthier Americans was being hotly debated.

“The numbers are in: American voters strongly support new ways of solving our budget problems, while protecting our planet at the same time,” said Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth, which commissioned the poll. “The president and members of Congress don’t need to think about another harsh round of cuts to our social safety net, when carbon taxes are a popular and promising budget solution.”

Even a modest tax on carbon dioxide pollution, like that proposed by Representative Pete Stark (D-Calif.) in 2009, has the potential to generate substantial revenue: Stark’s tax, for example, could have yielded $80 billion in the first year alone, and $600 billion over 10 years. That is about half the amount that the automatic spending cuts ($1.2 trillion) would save over nine years, less if part of the revenue were refunded to consumers.

Survey respondents were very supportive of a carbon tax even when presented with strongly-worded arguments against it, including the contention that “with the economy in trouble and too many people struggling to find jobs, this is a wrong time to pass a new tax on every business and consumer in America.”

The poll also indicated that:

  • Compared with taxing carbon pollution, only 15 percent of respondents favored cutting government spending as a way of solving our budget problems.
  • Voters’ strong support for carbon taxes do not differ greatly based on how the revenue would be used: whether to help solve our budget problems (70 percent in favor), or to help solve our budget problems as well as fund climate and clean energy jobs programs (72 percent in favor).
  • Support for a carbon tax was high among Democrats (93 percent in favor) and Republicans (66 percent) alike.

The survey was conducted between December 16-19, 2012, by the Mellman Group, two-time winner of “Pollster of the Year” by American Association of Political Consultants. The survey polled a scientifically selected random sample of 1,000 adults from throughout the United States. All voted in the 2012 presidential election. The survey was balanced between men and women, and between those who described themselves as Democrats versus Republicans, and liberal versus conservative. The margin of error associated with this survey is +/– 3.1 percent.

20 Responses to “U.S. voters favor carbon tax by 4-to-1 margin”

  1. daveburton Says:

    When you talk of taxing “carbon pollution,” accompanied by a picture of industrial smokestacks belching smoke (or steam backlit to make it look dark like smoke), then of course people will support it.

    But that’s deceptive. CO2 is not “carbon pollution.” Soot is carbon pollution. CO2 is the clean, harmless, transparent, natural trace gas that we add to greenhouses to make the plants grow better. Soot is the dirty, black, smokey stuff that nobody wants to breathe.

    Taxing soot can discourage soot production and help people to breathe better (in places where that’s not already being done). Taxing CO2 just makes everyone poorer.

    Why does the Climate Movement so consistently resort to deception to make their case? Well, that’s obvious: because “truth has a conservative bias.”

    But the people who concoct those deceptions obviously know what they’re doing, so why do they continue devoting themselves to doing it? Why waste your lives promoting lies? Why go to your graves with the knowledge that that you wasted your short time on the Earth making people poorer and spreading myths?

    I’ve never understood the mentality of people who do that. It’s why I could never be a tobacco farmer, or a climate alarmist.

    • jasonpettitt Says:

      Obviously The Clean Air Act regulates CO2 as a pollutant, a position upheld by the US Supreme Court. And the dictionary.

      • daveburton Says:

        jasonbettitt says, “Obviously The Clean Air Act regulates CO2 as a pollutant,…”

        Wrong. The Clean Air Act does not authorize the EPA or any other agency to regulate CO2 as a pollutant. Neither the original Clean Air Act, as enacted in 1967, nor any of the many amendments subsequently enacted, authorize regulation of CO2. The law was never intended by the legislators who enacted it to regulate CO2. If it had contained such a provision, it would not have passed.

        This is not a matter of arguable interpretation, it is explicit in the law. Subsection (o) Renewable fuel program, which refers to CO2 as a greenhouse gas, specifically states that it does not authorize regulation of either CO2 or any other greenhouse gas (p.5862):

        (12) Effect on other provisions
        Nothing in this subsection, or regulations issued pursuant to this subsection, shall affect or be construed to affect the regulatory status of carbon dioxide or any other greenhouse gas, or to expand or limit regulatory authority regarding carbon dioxide or any other greenhouse gas, for purposes of other provisions (including section 7475) of this chapter. The previous sentence shall not affect implementation and enforcement of this subsection.

        The Obama EPA is blatantly violating that provision, but the lawlessness of the Obama Administration is not evidence that CO2 is a pollutant.

        Here’s the full text of the Clean Air Act:

        Click to access USCODE-2008-title42-chap85.pdf

        • jasonpettitt Says:

          Legislation cascades down, not up. Your quote from p.5862 is specific to its subsection.

          “Nothing in this subsection (The Renewable Fuel Programme), or regulations issued pursuant…”

          It only says that the Renewable Fuel Programme legislation cannot affect the regulatory status of CO2. It says nothing, explicit or otherwise, about endangerment findings under the Clean Air Act proper.

          Hope this helps clear up your misinterpretation.

        • Dave, Justice Scalia and Justice Robert’s wrote their minority opinions. Justice Stevens wrote the court’s majority opinion. A link to the complete SC text is below a few cherry picked phrases from the court’s opinion.

          EPA has refused to comply with this clear statutory command. Instead, it has offered a laundry list of reasons not to regulate.

          The CAA defines “air pollutant” as “any air pollution agent or combination of such agents, including any physical, chemical, biological, radioactive . . . substance or matter which is emitted into or otherwise enters the ambient air”. The majority opinion commented that “greenhouse gases fit well within the CAA’s capacious definition of air pollutant.”

          Although we have neither the expertise nor the authority to evaluate these policy judgments, it is evident they have nothing to do with whether greenhouse gas emissions contribute to climate change. Still less do they amount to a reasoned justification for declining to form a scientific judgment. In particular, while the President has broad authority in foreign affairs, that authority does not extend to the refusal to execute domestic laws.

          In short, EPA has offered no reasoned explanation for its refusal to decide whether greenhouse gases cause or contribute to climate change. Its action was therefore “arbitrary, capricious, . . . or otherwise not in accordance with law.” 42 U. S. C. §7607(d)(9)(A).

          The judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. It is so ordered.

          Click to access 05-1120.pdf

          • daveburton Says:

            Thanks for the link. Did you notice that the four Justices who most favor strict interpretation of the the laws in accordance with their intended meaning all dissented?

            It is completely clear from both the text of the statute and the legislative history that Congress never intended to give the EPA the authority to regulate CO2. Unfortunately, the liberal majority carried the day, in a 5-4 ruling.

    • Dave’s willingness to tax the root cause of environmental problems that Dave can see is a hopeful signal.

      Despite the fact that humans can’t see CO2 without instrumentation, CO2 does interact with the physical world in multiple fascinating ways. That’s obviously a cognitive leap for some, and easier to grasp for others.

      Back to Dave’s core critique. Maybe a graph would be a less controversial, and an even more “manipulative”, image than a smokestack? On the other hand, my wife advises me to stop using so many graphs. 🙂

    • ktorsten Says:

      I’ve never understood the lack of curiosity displayed by people who write things such as “CO2 is the clean, harmless, transparent, natural trace gas that we add to greenhouses to make the plants grow better”. Do you not wonder whether there is a downside to this?

      Yes, many greenhouse operators add large amounts of CO2 to the atmosphere of their greenhouses as a type of fertilization. In the case of tomatoes, operators typically also have to add boron, a micronutrient, to the soils to avoid growth deformities in the plants and the fruit. Boron is essential to the proper development of the rapidly growing parts of the plant, and it is moved passively from the roots by way of water conduction. Water conduction is the result of evaporation through stomata at the leaves. Plants respond to increasing the concentration of CO2 by closing off stomata as their CO2 needs are met. This has the effect of reducing transpiration, a fact often touted by promoters of CO2 fertilization as a benefit, because less water is used by the plants. But the potential downside is the loss of boron (and calcium) delivery to the expanding shoots. Boron deficiency can be neatly addressed in the greenhouse environment with high value crops, but not so easily for open grown crops.

      Induced boron deficiency is well known to foresters who use nitrogen fertilizer on lodgepole pine. The fourth picture on this page is what it can look like: http://www.for.gov.bc.ca/HRE/standman/trtfert_pics.htm

      To further complicate matters, boron deficiency in this species can occur on rapidly drained soils during very hot and dry spring weather. In other words, there are already environments in which threshold conditions during the early growing season can be crossed and boron deficiency will occur. So give this some thought: Do you think anyone has an inventory of boron availability in soils across the millions of square km of land on which forest crops grow? Do you think anyone has quantified the interaction of CO2 concentration, boron availability, and temperature at which trees will suddenly experience shoot dieback? How about for agricultural crops? And yet we have this claim, stated as if it were an unequivocal truth, that this gas is harmless at high concentrations.

      Here’s another one: Rice spikelet response to high temperature at higher CO2 concentrations. Look it up. Again, you’ll find the story is not so simple. A number of rice varieties have been tested under different CO2 concentrations. Some varieties produce well, even extraordinarily well, when CO2 is elevated. But spikelet sterility occurs if the temperature exceeds a threshold during the flowering stage, and the amount of crop loss increases with the temperature. The temperature levels at which this occurs are in the range already experienced in tropical and sub-tropical rice growing areas, so we expect this phenomenon now and again. But here’s the catch: even if CO2 did not have any effect on global temperatures, the threshold temperature at which sterility occurs goes down as the CO2 rises. One possible reason for this is that the reduction in transpiration due to high CO2 also reduces the cooling of the plants. Imagine that: the very feature touted by contrarians creates other problems. Your high-CO2-is-good mantra promotes an unstable rice production system that races along producing great yields in many years, but increasingly blows up and leaves people hungry. Perhaps you’ll donate your surplus to the poor subsistence farmers who are most affected? Does your caring for the poor extend that far?

      Oh, and yet another one to ponder:
      Atmospheric CO2 as a Global Change Driver Influencing Plant-Animal Interactions.

      Get your copy here: http://icb.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/reprint/42/3/424.pdf

      “SYNOPSIS. Plants respond to changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide. To herbivores, the decreased leaf protein contents and increased C/N ratios common to all leaves under elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide imply a reduction in food quality. In addition to these fine-scale adjustments, the abundance of C3 and C4 plants (particularly grasses) are affected by atmospheric carbon dioxide. C4 grasses currently predominate over C3 grasses in warmer climates and their distributions expand as atmospheric carbon dioxide levels decreased during glacial periods. C4 grasses are a less nutritious food resource than C3 grasses both in terms of reduced protein content and increased C/N ratios. There is an indication that as C4-dominated ecosystems expanded 6–8 Ma b.p., there were significant species-level changes in mammalian grazers. Today there is evidence that mammalian herbivores differ in their preference for C3 versus C4 food resources, although the factors contributing to these patterns are not clear. Elevated carbon dioxide levels will likely alter food quality to grazers both in terms of fine-scale (protein content, C/N ratio) and coarse-scale (C3 versus C4) changes.”

      Consider these points made in the body of the paper:

      “In response to increasing atmospheric CO2, protein levels decrease in leaves of all species (Fig. 2).”

      “Both mammalian and insect herbivores respond to leaves grown under elevated CO2 with responses resulting in slower growth rates.”

      “Most of these responses fit into the general category of reduced digestibility and can be directly related to leaf C/N ratios.”

      Just what the world needs, more empty calories.

      So Dave, can you take any of these observations on board and admit that increasing the concentration of atmospheric CO2 is not an unequivocally good thing? Or that billions of people can be adversely affected by rising CO2 in a way that has nothing to do with global warming? Or will you go to your grave in bliss, wilfully ignorant that you wasted your short time on the Earth making people poorer and spreading myths?

      • daveburton Says:

        Thanks, ktorsten, for one of the more interesting comments I’ve seen here. However, I think your fears are rooted in an absence of quantification. Consider:

        1. Mankind might manage to drive CO2 to 600 ppm (doubled vs. per-industrial levels), but we’re unlikely to ever get it much higher than that.

        2. Greenhouses are commonly run at 2x to 2.5x that level of CO2, to maximize growth rates. Despite that, in general they do not require increases in other nutrients out of proportion to the increased growth rates. So it is safe to conclude that accelerated plant growth due to anthropogenic CO2 is unlikely to cause widespread deficiencies of boron or other nutrients in plants.

        3. There’s no evidence that hothouse-raised plants (raised in greenhouses with greatly elevated CO2 levels) are less nutritious than plants raised outdoors at normal CO2 levels. Hothouse-raised vegetables are certainly not “empty calories.”

        4 C4 grasses/grains (like corn) are not more nutritious than C3 grasses (like rice and wheat), or other C3 plants, like soybeans. In fact, almost all C3 grains (except rice) have higher protein content than corn.

        5. Elevated grain production does not equal instability of harvests due to heatwave-induced crop damage, simply because weather is not uniform.

        6. Also, I looked up Madan (2012), which is the paper to which I think you were referring, and it appears that you misread it. Although they did note that some (not all) varieties of rice had “reduced grain gel consistency” under high temperatures at elevated CO2 levels, the abstract says, “No interaction occurred between temperature and CO2 for seed-set,”

        7. Elevated CO2 levels benefit C3 plants more than C4 plants, which will give C3 plants a modest relative competitive advantage in the wild, but all cultivated crops benefit (to varying degrees) from elevated CO2.

        8. There is no question that overall agricultural productivity is considerably higher at 400 ppm than 300 ppm CO2, and that it will be higher yet at 500 or 600 ppm.

        That means the Earth can support a considerably higher population at elevated CO2 levels than at 300 or 350 ppm. (Alternately, the same population can be supported on much less agricultural land, when CO2 levels are elevated.)

        So, ktorsten, the question you need to ask yourself is this: how many millions of people is it worth starving to death to achieve the Climate Movement’s goal of 350 ppm (if that were even possible)? Because that would be the real result of dramatically lower CO2 levels.

      • ktorsten Says:

        Yes, Dave, the lack of quantification is a problem. Proponents of atmospheric fertilization point to increases in biomass as if they were some universal truth, and my point is that the plant response is more complex, with undesireable effects that in general we only have a hint of at this point. But sure, I’ll consider your points:

        1. 600 ppm would be about twice the pre-industrial level, and ~50% more than today. I don’t know whether CO2 concentrations will ever exceed 600 ppm, but two of the IPCC scenarios, based on “storylines” that seem to reflect human behaviour, have us there in 50-60 years, and as high as 800 ppm by the end of the century if one of them turns out to be true. Your assertion that humanity is unlikely to ever get it higher than that carries no particular weight.

        2. You say that in general, greenhouse producers do not need to increase other nutrients out of proportion to growth rates. I would guess that you do not have any literature that supports that claim. In my earlier post I gave an example of one nutrient that is very important. Looking through some literature I have another example, (here: http://www.plantphysiol.org/content/96/3/713.full.pdf ), again in tomatoes. In this case, it turns out that the CO2 enriched envrionment caused leaf deformities that were correlated with foliar potassium and manganese concentrations. None of this should come as a surprise. We know that over-applying some nutrients induces deficiences in other nutrients. CO2 is a nutrient, and greatly increasing its concentration should be expected to cause imbalances. Why would you deny this?

        3. I showed you a paper that concludes that the effect of increasing [CO2] is universally associated with increased C/N ratios. You’ve just ignored that evidence. My empty calories comment was tongue-in-cheek. Of course they are not empty calories, but they are certainly lower quality sources of protein.

        4. I made no claims re C3 vs C4. We know that the one pathway has a general advantage when the temperature rises. Both kinds of plants have increased C/N ratios in high [CO2] environments.

        5. I did not say that elevated grain production equals instability of harvests due to heatwave-induced crop damage. I said that for that one type of grain, raised [CO2] reduces the threshold temperature at which spikelet sterility occurs. I acknowledge that in general grain production rises with [CO2], with the caveat that high temperatures will more frequently cause failures. Am I to understand that because the rice producing areas of the world are larger in size than weather systems, that crop failures in parts of it don’t matter? Tell that to some American corn growers. Or Russian wheat farmers. Or…

        6. I did not get my information from Madan et al. It was from an IRRI report some years ago. But I’ve found some references to the original paper (Kim et al, 1996) that reported the phenomenon: Here: http://www.rkmp.co.in/sites/default/files/ris/research-themes/Climate%20Change%20and%20its%20Impact%20on%20Rice.pdf

        And a year later there was this, for which I only have the abstract: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S037842909603451X

        “The critical air temperature for spikelet sterility (as determined from the number of germinated pollen grains on the stigma) was reduced by ca 1°C at elevated concentrations of carbon dioxide.

        But, having read Madan et al, it appears you only looked at the abstract. Seed set was about the only thing for which there was no interaction between [CO2] and temperature. Seed set is based on the number of anthesed spikelets. But since “Higher temperature reduced the number of anthesing spikelets (P <0.05) in all three genotypes, with the effect being more prominent under elevated [CO2]", it doesn’t matter that subsequent seed set showed no interaction. The effect of [CO2} and temperature plays out on seed yield. It went down for all three varieties, and though it looks statistically insignificant, the higher [CO2] had a lower yield at the highest temperature for the “normal” strain used in the test. And, IIRC, those crossing lines in the yield diagram have implications for what you can actually conclude from the ANOVA.

        7. Again, you are just repeating the mantra that all increases in CO2 will be good for an entire category of plants. Interactions with other factors do not matter to you, and you seem incapable of bringing together other lines of evidence that suggest things won’t be universally rosy. Even so, you limit your discussion to cultivated plants. Well, the world doesn’t consist of only cultivated plants. There are more species in the wild and you’re willing to ignore them. One of them is the pine species I mentioned earlier. It’s really important where I live, and I think I have grounds for concern given that the [CO2] rise is enormous over the period of one rotation, say at least 50 years.

        8. More of the same.

        If you think a higher [CO2] is what will allow a high human population to exist, you are dreaming. Fertilizers and fossil fuels from a multimillion year storehouse is what is allowing this.

        Dave, you have not made a case showing millions will starve if CO2 levels go down to 350 ppm, so your question is silly.

    • greenman3610 Says:

      Dave, you might as well be a tobacco farmer. Your product does to minds what tobacco does to lungs. It’s an interesting point you make tho, and illustrative of the difficult psychological balancing act science deniers must endure.
      If you’re following the template of murderous tobacco interests, and building on their work, – then who, and what, are you?

      For the history of the anti-science tobacco interests, and their relation to the anti-science fossil fuel interests,

  2. […] Friends of the Earth: WASHINGTON, D.C. — Sixty-seven percent of Americans would rather see the government tax carbon pollution rather than cut spending as a way of solving our budget problems. Thi…  […]

  3. ubrew12 Says:

    This is really wonderful good news. A carbon tax strikes at two huge problems at once: our debt AND global warming. I’ve preferred a revenue neutral carbon tax in the past, but to help reduce the deficit think this is a good idea, as well. (they should also let the Bush cuts expire, at the least).

  4. Taxing carbon without using the revenue to fund deployment of carbon-free energy infrastructure solves nothing, as far as saving our species goes.

    All the money from such a tax, assuming it could ever be passed, should be shunted exclusively for R&D and deployment of renewable wind and solar, for that is where the future of mankind lies.

    Applying these monies to debt reduction is a truly useless idea.

  5. […] For example, a recent poll found that 93% of Democrats and even 66% of Republicans (like much of the world) support a carbon tax. Furthermore, 67% of voters would rather see the government tax carbon pollution than cut government spending in order to fix budget problems, versus a measly 15% who would prefer the reverse. Here are some more interesting findings from the recent poll (from Friends of the Earth, via climate crock buster Peter Sinclair): […]

  6. […] For example, a recent poll found that 93% of Democrats and even 66% of Republicans (like much of the world) support a carbon tax. Furthermore, 67% of voters would rather see the government tax carbon pollution than cut government spending in order to fix budget problems, versus a measly 15% who would prefer the reverse. Here are some more interesting findings from the recent poll (from Friends of the Earth, via climate crock buster Peter Sinclair): […]

  7. […] For example, a recent poll found that 93% of Democrats and even 66% of Republicans (like much of the world) support a carbon tax. Furthermore, 67% of voters would rather see the government tax carbon pollution than cut government spending in order to fix budget problems, versus a measly 15% who would prefer the reverse. Here are some more interesting findings from the recent poll (from Friends of the Earth, via climate crock buster Peter Sinclair): […]

  8. […] 2013/01/31: PSinclair: U.S. voters favor carbon tax by 4-to-1 margin […]

  9. […] For example, a recent poll found that 93% of Democrats and even 66% of Republicans (like much of the world) support a carbon tax. Furthermore, 67% of voters would rather see the government tax carbon pollution than cut government spending in order to fix budget problems, versus a measly 15% who would prefer the reverse. Here are some more interesting findings from the recent poll (fromFriends of the Earth, via climate crock buster Peter Sinclair): […]

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