Each week, we’re compiling the most relevant news stories from diverse sources online, connecting the latest environmental and energy economics research to global current events, real-time public discourse, and policy decisions. Here are some questions we’re asking and addressing with our research chops this week:
With the 2020 presidential election on the horizon, what do the latest public survey results reveal about American attitudes toward climate change?
One in four Americans say that global warming is extremely personally important to them, according to the Climate Insights 2020 report, the latest in a series of surveys that has been ongoing since 1997. The report’s coauthor, RFF University Fellow and Stanford Professor Jon Krosnick, emphasizes that more voters now profess this level of passion about climate change than the number of people who say the same for gun control or capital punishment. These findings are especially relevant as the Democratic and Republican National Conventions wrap up, which formally kicks off the 2020 general election season. While climate change is often presented as a partisan issue, the survey presents a more nuanced picture, as 81 percent of respondents believe that Earth’s temperature has been rising over the past 100 years, and 79 percent say that the federal government should limit greenhouse gas emissions. Large numbers of Democrats, Republicans, and independents alike support action by governments, businesses, and individuals.
But whether voters will prioritize climate change in this election is another issue. The coronavirus pandemic has left Americans worried about their health, their jobs, and their schools, while recent instances of police violence have brought racial justice to the forefront. Researchers have theorized that crises like these distract from long-term threats such as climate change, but the Climate Insights 2020 survey suggests otherwise. “All of the disruption in the country that we've seen over the last four to five months has led to no change in the downward direction in anything that we've measured in this survey,” says Krosnick on a new episode of Resources Radio. “[There’s] absolutely no evidence that Americans can't walk and chew gum at the same time.” Watch for future installments in the survey series, which will focus on more specific issues like natural disasters and green stimulus efforts; in the meantime, use the Climate Insights data tool to explore the published results.
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How can American policymakers incentivize consumers to purchase electric vehicles during a time of economic hardship?
As COVID-19 has spread and the global economy has collapsed, demand for cars has plummeted. In response, many European nations have expanded electric vehicle (EV) subsidies to stimulate the market. In Sweden, 26 percent of cars are now at least partially electric, and one electric vehicle model is functionally free in Germany. More EVs have been sold this year across Western Europe than in all of China, which, for its part, has recently stalled plans to roll back long-running EV subsidies. In the United States, however, the future of EVs is much less certain. A recent survey has found that American car buyers are open to purchasing EVs, but that 57 percent say up-front costs are prohibitively high and 65 percent worry about ongoing maintenance costs. Political momentum is building to make EVs more affordable, with Democratic nominee Joe Biden recently endorsing a plan from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) that would incentivize consumers to swap out older vehicles with newer electric models.
But according to a new blog post from RFF University Fellow Benjamin Leard and Georgetown PhD candidate Kevin Ankney, Schumer’s “Clean Cars for America” proposal could fall short of its ambitious goals. Under Schumer’s plan, new car buyers would receive a rebate of at least $3,000 if they traded in a gasoline-powered vehicle that is at least eight years old for a newer clean-energy vehicle. Leard and Ankney say that criteria is overly narrow, given that nearly half of all cars discarded from October 2017 to September 2018 were less than eight years old. “The Schumer plan could certainly have greater impact as the clean-car market matures,” they write. “However, if the ultimate goal of the plan is to remove dirty cars from the fleet and increase the number of clean cars on US roads, policymakers may want to consider incentives that target a larger proportion of the car-buying population.”
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Federally owned lands have long been controversial in rural communities of the American West, where many residents rely on the land for their livelihoods. But what are the actual economic impacts of national monuments?
This month, President Donald Trump contributed $100,000 from his salary to fund repairs on national monuments, following up on the passage of the Great American Outdoors Act with another signal that the administration may prioritize the protection of national parks and monuments. But despite these recent developments, the administration has not always favored conservation issues and instead has often cast doubt on the value of federally owned lands. In 2017, President Trump vowed to “end another egregious use of government power” by reducing the size of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments, and he has since defended the acting director of the Bureau of Land Management, who once argued that the federal government has no authority to declare public lands at all. Just last week, the administration finalized plans to allow oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a move to support the fossil fuel sector despite concerns about the impact of drilling on threatened Arctic species.
Critics have long contended that national monuments and other public lands stifle economic development in rural communities. But in a new article in the Review of Environmental Economics and Policy, RFF Senior Fellow Margaret Walls reviews the existing evidence and finds that national monuments offer many underappreciated economic benefits. Reflecting on lessons from history, Walls explores why national monument designations—which can be made unilaterally by a president without congressional approval—have been blamed for economic problems in western states. Citing other scholarly work, including a recent article in Science Advances that she coauthored, Walls instead finds that national monuments are associated with an increase in jobs and have no discernible negative impact on local industries. “Although national monuments have often been a lightning rod in the debates over the uses of public lands,” she writes, “the evidence suggests that their benefits outweigh the opportunity costs of protection.”
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