Often lost in greens’ advocacy is how a cleaner environment improves the lives of individuals. People hear, “Save the trees!” or “Use clean energy!” But if you’re out of work or can’t afford the electricity bill, you may ask, “How do these environmental efforts help me and my family?”
Yesterday, the University of Texas released its newest UT Energy Poll, which was conducted in January and concerns nationwide views on energy issues. The results indicate attitudes toward clean energy are overwhelmingly positive. This data also suggests, however, that people do not place as high of a priority on energy issues as they do on more personal issues, such as job creation.
Perhaps people don’t realize the extent to which clean energy and economic gains are actually closely linked. Therefore, investing in clean energy solutions will align with the public’s support and help address their biggest concerns.
Already popular and just getting started
A common theme throughout the poll is the extent to which people feel positively toward climate action and clean energy, especially in comparison to the alternatives. For example, here are a few particularly telling points:
- 91 percent of respondents are in favor of actions to address climate change that are at least comparable to those taken in the rest of the world. By contrast, only 2 percent of people feel the U.S. should do nothing to address climate change.
- 90 percent believe the U.S. should focus on developing renewable technologies, and 70 percent favor government subsidies for renewable energy and energy efficiency. By contrast, only 42 and 34 percent of respondents support subsidies for oil and coal, respectively.
Additionally, people’s energy beliefs – and support for cleaner sources – have influence over who they will vote into office:
- 61 percent of respondents would be more likely to vote for a candidate who supports taking steps to reduce carbon emissions, whereas only 10 percent would be less likely to vote for such a candidate.
- Similarly, 59 percent would favor a candidate who “supports expanding financial incentives for companies engaged in renewable technologies,” whereas 9 percent would not favor such a candidate.
Lastly, when contrasting these poll results to past years’, it’s clear clean energy’s popularity is holding strong. Furthermore, answers related to the future inspire confidence that these pro-clean energy sentiments will increasingly translate into action. For example, while 2-8 percent of people use advanced electric meters (also known as “smart meters”) or own hybrids or electric vehicles, 27-44 percent believe they will in the next five years.
Connecting energy issues with people on a personal level
If clean energy has so much support, why isn’t it more prevalent? The poll illuminates a few gaps.
First, this topic is not high priority for people and appears to lack visceral appeal. When considering which issue they would most likely devote more of the national budget to, only 3 percent and 7 percent of respondents point to energy and environment, respectively. More tellingly, 12 and 21 percent ranked these respective issues dead last.
Luckily for everyone, energy is integral to a subject that is often deeply personal: economics. According to the UT Energy Poll, job creation is the number one issue on which people believe the government should devote more money. Coincidentally, the solar industry creates twice as many jobs as coal and three times as many as natural gas, and energy efficiency leads to significant net job growth.
But more jobs is just one way clean energy will benefit the economy over the coming years. Wind, solar, energy efficiency, and other clean energy resources are also becoming increasingly competitive – and this economic viability is poised for a global explosion over the coming five years. Research from major financial firms and energy-oriented thought leaders – including Bloomberg New Energy Finance, Deutsche Bank, Lazard, and others – supports this forecast. Plus, global clean energy investment has seen impressive growth, in spite of falling oil and gas prices. 2015 was a record year at $329.3 billion worldwide, representing more than 500 percent growth since just a decade ago.
Second, people’s positive intentions are aligned with clean energy – when their own money isn’t considered. Only 44 percent are willing to pay higher prices in order to protect the environment, whereas 35 percent are unwilling. By contrast, 64 percent believe reducing carbon emissions should be a U.S. priority, whereas only 15 percent believe otherwise. In other words, people want an improved environment, but enthusiasm wains when even marginal personal sacrifice becomes part of the solution.
Fortunately, one does not require the other. The facts above speak to a rosy future, but they don’t capture how cleaner energy generation has led to lower electricity prices in past years. In Texas, for example, wholesale electricity prices have fallen nearly 50 percent since 2005, primarily due to plummeting prices of lower-carbon natural gas. Notably, Texas’ wind generation has grown exponentially from one to 10 percent during this same timeframe. And as renewable costs continue to come down (for example, the cost of solar has dropped a whopping 82 percent since 2009), clean energy and low electricity prices should be increasingly associated.
The UT Energy Poll reveals 79 percent of people realize environmental stewardship and economic growth are compatible national goals. They’re right – especially when it comes to clean energy. And it is advocates’ job to better highlight the complementary relationship between clean energy deployment and personal economic prospects. People clearly support cleaner electricity, and they should know it goes hand in hand with job creation and bill savings.