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Engaging Stakeholders On Climate Change

Public support or opposition to climate change policies (treaties, regulations, taxes, subsidies, etc.) will be greatly influenced by public perception of the risks and dangers of climate change. A 2007 survey by the Yale Project on Climate Change found that 75 percent of the American public believes global climate change is happening, while 57 percent believe it is caused primarily by human activities. The percentage of Americans who believe climate change is either already having dangerous impacts around the world or will in the next 10 years (48%) has increased by 20 percentage points since 2004 (28%). These and other findings demonstrate that there is growing public concern about the threat of global warming and strong support for a variety of climate change policies at the federal, state, and local levels, including higher fuel economy and renewable portfolio standards, energy efficient building codes, and large public investments in clean energy development.

Research also finds that certain messages resonate better than others, and that successful messaging often differs by constituency. For example, messages that highlight the potential local and health impacts of climate change can help citizens connect the issue to their everyday lives. Other people respond to moral arguments, such as equity, fairness, social justice, and personal and societal responsibility to reduce emissions. Likewise, while some environmentalists emphasize the potential impacts on other species and ecosystems, some Evangelical leaders talk about climate change as an issue of “creation care” and the stewardship ethic. Policymakers should recognize that there are many roads to Damascus – that different constituencies may start with different motivations, yet end up at common policy solutions. Furthermore, there are enormous opportunities to connect climate change in new ways with constituents representing a wide variety of interests.

Research also shows that Americans currently prefer certain policy options over others. For example, the Yale Project on Climate Change found that while 85 percent of Americans support increasing vehicle fuel efficiency standards to 35 miles per gallon, only 34 percent favor a gasoline tax. While policymaking should not necessarily be driven by polls, it is important to know that the broader public generally prefers higher vehicle and building efficiency standards, stronger regulations, and public investments in clean energy over carbon taxes.

Overall, a large majority of Americans believe climate change is real, caused by human activities, and a serious threat to national and global society. Many express a willingness to roll up their sleeves, change their own behavior, and support bold action by their elected officials – Americans are waiting for their leaders to lead.