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Cap and Trade: You Don't Have to "Get It" to Like It

by Anna Fahey

Pew opinion research shows support despite lack of understanding.

image_mini.jpeg It turns out that most Americans are not sure what a cap and trade program is. In a Pew Research News IQ Quiz , less than a quarter (23 percent) of the American public was able to identify cap and trade legislation as dealing with energy and the environment (11 percent said it dealt with health care, 13 percent banking reform and roughly half admitted they did not know). This boggles the minds of folks like us at Sightline who've been living and breathing cap and trade policy for several years now. But it's a good reality check for the wonk set.

Again, despite our efforts to get the word out about smart climate and energy policy, in a different Pew Research survey, just 14 percent said they had heard a lot about cap and trade; a majority reported hearing nothing at all.

However, when such a program is described to Americans, it receives support.

It turns out, you don't have to "get it" to love it...or at least to be in favor.

Half of the public -- a solid number -- favors setting limits on carbon dioxide emissions and making companies pay for their emissions, even if it may mean higher energy prices, while only 39 percent are opposed and 11 percent unsure.

So, the question is: Are we simply explaining cap and trade poorly, or not often and loudly enough, or should we just start saying what it does, rather than trying to explain how it works?

This piece originally appeared on Sightline Daily.

Image Credit: Wigwam Jones via Flickr, Creative Commons License

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To me 23% sounds more than enough. People should not understand how Cap n Trade works, they should merely receive the benefits of it for free, or as a paid service. When mobile phones were out, few tried to understand how they work, the rest focused on enjoying their benefits. Make it simple, people and the world will change in a heartbeat!

Posted by: Agelos Labrou on 10 Dec 09

As a social scientist I have to question the research methodology as described here as it seems to seems to be potentially flawed. It sounds as though people were asked if they knew what cap and trade is and, if they did not, it was explained to them after which they were asked if they were in favor. (How else do we get from under a quarter have heard of it to more than half are in favor?) But were alternative policies, such as a carbon tax with revenues dedicated to RD&D to reduce costs of low-carbon technologies, also explained to them? If not the claim of this research that over half Americans support cap and trade may be seriously misleading, as their vote may really be in favour of emissions reductions policies rather than cap and trade in particular and they may well have preferred other ways to meet carbon emissions reduction goals if they were offered information about them.

Steve Rayner, Professor of Science & Civilization, University of Oxford

Posted by: steve rayner on 10 Dec 09

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