Context is king when advocating for renewable energy policies, according to political science professor

June 30, 2017 by Sonia Fernandez, University of California - Santa Barbara
Credit: University of California - Santa Barbara

The first rule of advocating for climate change-related legislation is: You do not talk about "climate change." The term has become so polarizing that its mere mention can cause reasonable people to draw seemingly immutable lines in the political sand.

"In some ways, it functions as what we would call a 'dog-whistle'," said UC Santa Barbara political science professor Leah Stokes, referring to a term or statement that while innocent-sounding enough to most people, encodes deeper and more specific meanings to certain audiences. And it's true: For many conservatives, the idea of enacting -related policies is fraught with fears of economic loss and major lifestyle changes. For many liberals, on the other hand, not enacting such policies is fraught with fears of economic loss and major lifestyle changes. It's a tug-of-war that began at the start of the century and continues today.

"Trump is president right now and therefore we're really unlikely to see new federal laws trying to climate change legislation or renewable policy, or dealing with environmental problems," Stokes said. States will likely become the leaders in pursuing renewable energy policy to maintain progress and deal with potentially damaging environmental effects, such as sea level rise and air quality problems, she said. But levels of support for action vary across the nation, and the challenge will be to avoid triggering knee-jerk reactions that are less about the issue and more about partisanship.

"We try to understand what kinds of messages would work with the public and how that would translate into more states actually doing something about these issues," said Stokes, who with Christopher Warshaw of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology conducted research into how people connect (or not) with the hot-button issues related to climate change, such as renewable energy legislation. Their study, "Renewable Energy Policy Design and Framing Influence Public Support in the United States," is published in the journal Nature Energy.

The good news from the results of their repeated survey experiment: Public support for renewable energy in the U.S. is very strong. According to their baseline figures, the vast majority of people in the country support renewable energy portfolios in their states, in which a certain amount of the states' electricity comes from a . The results are what you might expect: States with an abundance of renewable resources—California, Hawaii, New Mexico and Iowa, for instance—top the list and have actual renewable energy policies in play, while the southern and mountain states tend to have little support, and no renewable energy policies.

"Overall, these findings suggest that state legislators are broadly responsive to public opinion on this issue," Warshaw said.

But public opinion does not always cement state legislation. Florida, for example, has not only the wind and solar resources to support renewable energy, but also more for it than Oregon, which currently has a policy requiring that at least a quarter of its energy come from renewables. Florida has no renewable energy policy.

Meanwhile, in states where majority support decreases toward the 50 percent mark, legislatures tend to be less resolute or aggressive in pursuing renewable energy policies, and even contemplate decreasing their participation in renewable energy policies or opposing them. This population could easily sway the progress of renewable energy policy in the U.S. one way or another, depending on how they view it.

Levels of support for renewable energy policy, by state. Credit: University of California - Santa Barbara

Stokes and Warshaw found that the context in which renewable energy policy is framed, particularly in terms of jobs, electricity costs and pollution, has a tremendous impact on a person's opinion of it. As Americans favor cheap electricity, the greatest factor would be cost. Even a $2 increase in monthly electric bills would likely cause support for renewable energy to drop by 13 percent, shifting 13 states away from renewable energy policy. A $10 increase would likely result in the majority of states taking an opposing view, the researchers found.

Meanwhile, substantial job creation would be enough to flip opponents of renewable energy into supporters—and the more jobs, the better. However, states with no net job increases would probably see corresponding decreases in renewable energy support. This is particularly important for the coal states, such as Virginia, Montana and Kentucky, which are major opponents of renewable energy policies.

A decrease in fossil fuel-borne pollution is another huge factor that could sway even the staunchest opponents—typically Republicans—of renewable energy policies.

"People tend to forget that when we talk about renewable energy it has benefits for air pollution, and so when you remind people of that it's likely to increase their support because reducing air pollution is a local benefit," said Stokes. And the key, according to the researchers, is the local benefit, because people don't connect to broad concepts such as climate change on a personal level, often viewing it as a global and future phenomenon.

"We've found that climate change is not an effective frame to gauge people's opinion about renewable energy," she said, "so whether it's Democrat or Republican talking about climate change, no matter how we frame it, if we talk about climate change it doesn't move people." The term has become synonymous with partisanship, Stokes said, and less about the actual issue at hand.

"I think it's because they already have a pretty strong view on the connection between renewable energy policies and climate change," Warshaw said. "Their view is already baked in, so you can't frame the question in a way that triggers a change."

On the other hand, political support, particularly from the political elites, often triggers public support for renewable energy.

"There's a general finding in political science that the public tends to look to politicians to understand because they're often very technical things that are not easy to understand," Stokes said. Democrats—both politicians and voting public—are supportive of renewable energy in general. Republican voters are more likely to support renewables if their Republican legislators show support. Support from legislators of one party does not drive down support from voters of the other.

"So the idea is that by ensuring that these policies actually reduce air pollution, increase jobs and get Republican support, and communicating all that to the public, we would find majority support—even from some of the most coal-dominated —for these policies," Stokes said. "That's pretty impressive."

Explore further: US mayors back plan for cities to use only renewable energy

More information: Renewable energy policy design and framing influence public support in the United States, Nature Energy (2017). DOI: 10.1038/nenergy.2017.107

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38 comments

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RichTheEngineer
2.2 / 5 (13) Jun 30, 2017
In other words, lie. Typical leftist garbage; lie to get what you want, because ethics and morals don't matter.
dnatwork
4.1 / 5 (13) Jun 30, 2017
In other words, lie. Typical leftist garbage; lie to get what you want, because ethics and morals don't matter.


No, the article is saying tell the truth about the underlying issues (jobs, air pollution, utility rates), don't bother talking about climate change, which is just a polarizing buzzword (after decades of lobbying and secretly funded fake science by Exxon et al.).

It's the republicans and their corporate owners who lie and have no ethics or morals. If they had morals, they would have at least a scintilla of concern for anyone who wasn't paying them not to care.
Eikka
2.5 / 5 (12) Jun 30, 2017
the article is saying tell the truth about the underlying issues (jobs, air pollution, utility rates), don't bother talking about climate change, which is just a polarizing buzzword


The real reason why climate change is such a divisive word is because it's an excuse.

When you launch into the AGW spiel right from the starting line, you know the next thing that follows is that your proposal doesn't actually make sense in practice, but it is "necessary" for this greater goal of preventing climate change. It's just a smokescreen for snake oil.

Any real solution should work of its own, because economically and socially unsustainable options are not going to stand the test of time - they depend on the political status quo, and are mired in a partisan attempt to establish a "thousand year reich" by this issue, saying "we are the saviors".

If we are to actually fight climate change, we should employ ideas that make sense even if global warming wasn't happening.
Dingbone
Jun 30, 2017
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
antialias_physorg
4.3 / 5 (11) Jun 30, 2017
For many conservatives, the idea of enacting climate change-related renewable energy policies is fraught with fears of economic loss and major lifestyle changes.

Here's the thing, though. Some states in the US (and quite a few countries in the world) have already serious percentages of energy coming from renewables. Any of these regions worse off? Economically? Seeing any lifestyle changes other than for the better?

Weird, ain't it?

Yet still some protest. Methinks there's something else afoot.
ddaye
4.5 / 5 (8) Jun 30, 2017
People that cease collaborating when a natural reality is mentioned might be polite but they're not reasonable. And the problem of climate or energy for American conservatives isn't about "economic loss." The conservatism driving the right opposes public policy as an entire concept.
Vidyaguy
2.1 / 5 (7) Jun 30, 2017
Obfuscation of that sort may well be "effective," if the listener is not a scientist. But, an interested and experienced apolitical individual, trained in the "hard" sciences, will see through such dissimulation with little difficulty.

Of course, the use of such concealed misinformation is nothing new: the public has for decades been emotionally manipulated by childlike and simplistic "climate" models, couched within the limited scientific vocabulary of the media, to portray a consensus that does not exist.
greenonions1
3.9 / 5 (7) Jun 30, 2017
The conservatism driving the right opposes public policy as an entire concept.
Totally agree - and led by Steve Bannon, Steve Miller, etc. It really makes your brain hurt - as of course - everyone knows that public policy is necessary, and good. Ask an arch conservative in the U.S. if they will give up their medicare, social security, or VA benefits. Look at the clean air we now have - as a result of environmental legislation. Who wants to live in Beijing? It seems that it is lead by some abstract ideology - but don't talk to us about the real world. But we live in the real world. This also touches on Antialias' point - of opposing renewable energy - despite the reality that it is working out pretty well around the world. Again - lead based on abstract ideology - and don't look at the real world.
greenonions1
3.8 / 5 (10) Jun 30, 2017
vidyaguy
the public has for decades been emotionally manipulated by childlike and simplistic "climate" models


Or perhaps there is another explanation - that the climate models have a pretty good record. https://www.thegu...-thought
The climate actually is warming - and the driver of that warming is green house gases being pumped into the atmosphere.

In that case it would not be a case of emotional manipulation - but a reporting of the science. Perhaps you could present some evidence to the contrary.
luke_w_bradley
4.6 / 5 (5) Jun 30, 2017
This comments section demonstrates the topic. Lol!

Here's the real problem: There has been a destructive implicit argument on the left that climate change proves a failure in free markets, and global government is the cure. THAT is the sticking point with conservatives.

The reality is that renewables make free market sense: Its the difference between renting and owning a bucket of energy - with renewables the bucket is yours forever your and refilling, with others you use it and lose it, you give it back.
Parsec
3.7 / 5 (6) Jun 30, 2017
In other words, lie. Typical leftist garbage; lie to get what you want, because ethics and morals don't matter.


Typical partisan response. There are a LOT of benefits to greater use of renewable energy. Decreased air pollution, increased job creation (for example the current number of people working on solar installation is about 6 times the total number of coal mining jobs in the US).

Simply emphasizing one set of benefits, as long as they are accurately represented, and not mentioning other tangential ones (like reducing future climate change) is only lying to those partisans so focused on their own fantasy world they cannot handle reality..
Jquip
2.3 / 5 (6) Jun 30, 2017
The reality is that renewables make free market sense:


The essential problem with this idea is that if it did in fact make market sense, that businesses, apolitical sorts, and 'conservatives' would be all over it on their own. There would be no need for a national policy of any sort on the matter that's any more interesting than removing legislative barriers that may exist.

Quite certainly, if it made economic sense, there wouldn't be such a keening wail about mandates and subsidies on the matter. No matter where you come down on the issue from a scientific or political perspective, it is quite certain that the economics are an actual drawback.
Jquip
2.3 / 5 (6) Jun 30, 2017
... increased job creation (for example the current number of people working on solar installation is about 6 times the total number of coal mining jobs in the US)


Following on from my point about a lack of economic sense: This simply means that it requires 6 times as many man hours for the current solar output versus the current coal output. And while I'm not about to make this worse or spend the time by normalizing things across the energy produced, this simply means that solar is vastly more inefficient from a labor perspective.

So if we assume, erroneously, that the labor per gigawatt is equivalent in these numbers, then economic parity would not be reached unless the solar jobs paid 1/6 of the coal jobs. To actually create a surplus in the economy, and thus an overall economic benefit, the solar jobs would have to pay less than 1/6 that of coal jobs.

That's a purely monetarist and back of the napkin view of it, granted. But that should get you started.
luke_w_bradley
5 / 5 (3) Jul 01, 2017
Hooey, Jquip. Markets respond to perceptions, attitudes. Do you think a dollar bill is anything more than paper? It only has value because we agree it does.
Those perceptions are constantly off. Who saw PCs coming for instance? Just a few weirdos, and look how rich they got.

Plus, i just got back from soCal, saw millions in industrial losses unfolding before my eyes, planes unable to fly in AZ due to heat, melted street signs, mailboxes. It doesnt take 97% of climate scientist to see it, it takes half a brain and a thermometer. And free markets mean free, every actor in them has free will, they are free to invest in their destruction, or their continuance. The insane idea is that people will choose the former. It takes a mass orchestrated campaign of perception manipulation to make people due so, but when you see heat like that its all washed away, and its only going to get worse.
greenonions1
5 / 5 (3) Jul 01, 2017
jquip
that businesses, apolitical sorts, and 'conservatives' would be all over it on their ow
And many are. Take Elon Musk just for example. The problem with your arguments is a total lack of understanding of the economic system - especially here in the U.S. - that is totally distorted by crony capitalism. Every energy system (including wind/solar) gets supports from the gvt. Another problem you skirt - is that you cannot just compare number of jobs per Mwh - when doing an economic analysis. The best analysis is final cost to consumer - and on that basis - wind and solar are around grid parity today, and their costs are going to keep falling. If it were a free market - wind and solar would win hands down. The lobbyists are all fighting to distort the markets in favor of their own industries.
Anonym
2 / 5 (4) Jul 01, 2017
It always comes down to semantics. First, the "global cooling" catastrophe of the'70s was updated to become a "global warming" catastrophe in the '80s. But "global warming" fails to convey the essential point, the human aspect of the problem; besides, the globe has been warming for thousands of years: So the new buzz phrase became "anthropogenic global warming" (AGW), urgency suggested. At a 10-year run, AGW became "climate change," probably because proselytizers of the meme couldn't pronounce "anthropogenic" without losing their train of thought. Besides, "climate change" is delightfully ambiguous: no rational person can question the simple fact that the climate changes, right?

UN climate scientist Ben Santer just published a study in Nature Geoscience that found all the climate models overstate the degree of "forcing" by CO2. Santer says this error is explanatory of the models' failure to predict real-world temps since 1998. Consequently, they overstate future warming. Oops.
Forestgnome
not rated yet Jul 01, 2017
Let me get this straight. When something benefits people they support it, and when they don't benefit they don't support it. Brilliant!
dogbert
1 / 5 (4) Jul 01, 2017
The first rule of advocating for climate change-related legislation is: You do not talk about "climate change."


The term used to be 'AGW' (anthropogenic global warming). The left decided that the term had negative connotations and almost overnight, everyone was expected to use the term 'climate change'. Now that term has negative connotations.

The SOP of the left is to rename anything when the name becomes associated with the negative aspects of the program.

The program remains the same, just the words are changed.

AGW and climate change remain a tool for the redistribution of resources. Both use carbon taxes for that purpose.

Wonder what the new euphemism will be?
Da Schneib
5 / 5 (4) Jul 01, 2017
The reality is that renewables make free market sense:


The essential problem with this idea is that if it did in fact make market sense, that businesses, apolitical sorts, and 'conservatives' would be all over it on their own. There would be no need for a national policy of any sort on the matter that's any more interesting than removing legislative barriers that may exist.
It seems to be making economic and market sense given the number of new jobs in renewables vs. the number of new jobs in fossil fuels is 10:1.

We in the US can lead, or we can follow. The profits go to the leaders. Just sayin'.
Da Schneib
5 / 5 (4) Jul 01, 2017
... increased job creation (for example the current number of people working on solar installation is about 6 times the total number of coal mining jobs in the US)


Following on from my point about a lack of economic sense: This simply means that it requires 6 times as many man hours for the current solar output versus the current coal output.
You've just admitted that it creates at least 6 times as many jobs.

Get over it. Renewables make more jobs. If you're in favor of what you say you are this should be definitive. If you're lying, then you'll make up more excuses for penalizing the new jobs and fall behind the Chinese. Are you an American or a traitor? American jobs depend upon renewables. Choose now.

Your orange jebus with the little teeny hands is killing jobs. It's time to rein him in and make him do the right economic thing to save your job or give you a new one. The only question here is whether you vote in your own self-interest or not.
luke_w_bradley
4.2 / 5 (5) Jul 01, 2017
Dogbert, if you're actually a conservative, you're going to get so burned by branding global warming as a leftist idea. Its coming to this point in like 10 years where cows start dying in the fields without AC, and you have to be like "cows always needed to live in air conditioned tents!" My grandpappy set those up as a cowboy! Vegas was always too hot for human beings! You could never grow corn in kansas!" Because that's the corner you've painted yourself into. But more broadly on politics, who really cares? When did congress mandate we all use smart phones? Never, markets lead via science & technology, and eventually political clownshow catches up.I'm saying renewables plus some other goodies are the way its going, I'm right or Im wrong, time will tell.
dogbert
2.3 / 5 (3) Jul 02, 2017
luke_w_bradley,
Dogbert, if you're actually a conservative, you're going to get so burned by branding global warming as a leftist idea.


Since I never claimed that the left manufactured global warming, I can't be held responsible for your beliefs in that area.

I have noted on numerous occasions that the left uses climate as a tool for social redistribution. They do and they do that consistently.

Now as to climate changing, it certainly does change.

I am not aware of any mass bovine deaths attributable to climate change and don't expect to see any so long as water, food and shade is available to them.
Dingbone
Jul 02, 2017
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Dingbone
Jul 02, 2017
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
greenonions1
3.4 / 5 (5) Jul 02, 2017
Dingbone - you keep trotting out the same study - and people keep pointing out to you that the first page of your link says this
Renewable energy requires infrastructures built with metals whose extraction requires more and more energy. More mining is unavoidable, but increased recycling, substitution and careful design of new high-tech devices will help meet the growing demand.
Why are you immune to facts?
PTTG
5 / 5 (3) Jul 02, 2017
In other words, lie. Typical leftist garbage; lie to get what you want, because ethics and morals don't matter.


That's really rich considering the constant lies the President says.
Caliban
5 / 5 (2) Jul 02, 2017
The best part about renewable energy development, and the reason why it will win in the end, is that it doesn't entirely rely on any already(old boy) established funding, and a much of the money generated by the industry stays in the industry itself. As the level of market penetration for renewables increases, it confers economic benefits to its ever growing job-holders, who will spend their money in regions that are actively building out renewables and renewable infrastructure. In a cleaner, safer environment, to boot.

Fossil won't be able to use its time honoured method of lowering an already artificially high price for its product, and its market share decreases with each additional Mwh of renewable added to the supply.

Here we see, good people, the evolution of the Free Market as one dying behemoth of an industry is being out performed by a smarter, cleaner, leaner competitor in the struggle for market supremacy.

Dingbone
Jul 02, 2017
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
greenonions1
4 / 5 (4) Jul 02, 2017
we simply have not enough of fossil fuels for their complete replacement with "renewables".
We have plenty of fossil fuels - but it is time to move on - which is what we are doing. It is going to take time - but your lie about it not being technically possible to run the world on renewable energy is just that - a lie. Why don't you just wait and see what happens. Wind and solar are now the cheapest option - so the floodgates are about to open.
ForFreeMinds
1 / 5 (2) Jul 03, 2017
So professor Stokes is paid by the government, to teach energy businesses how to lobby the government to make them winners in the energy marketplace. How is that different from government employing someone to teach people how to pick others' pockets?

In their disdain for free markets which create incentives that yield prosperity, the government and many associated with the government (such as Dr. Stokes) have become criminal enterprises.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (2) Jul 03, 2017
we simply have not enough of fossil fuels for their complete replacement with "renewables".

And yet some countries have already managed it. How do you think they did that? Magic?

Face hard facts: It can be done and it is being done. Not becauise it's enviro-friendly, but because it's just dirt cheap.

The best part about renewable energy development, and the reason why it will win in the end, is that it doesn't entirely rely on any already(old boy) established funding

This is the part where I think it will be delayed quite a bit. The old boys will fight nail, tooth and claw (including paying all the shills on this site to simulate some 'public opinion' in favor of fossil fuels/nuclear...or influencing elections as happened in the US) to keep these subsidies flowing and to keep the fossil fuel sector artificially alive.

This needs a grass-roots revolution where people will no longer buy *any* product that is produced/transported using fossil fuels
Dingbone
Jul 03, 2017
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
TechnoCreed
5 / 5 (1) Jul 03, 2017
For those who think that fossil fuel power plants are not a major source of pollution in the US, here is the reality presented from a "Trump friendly page". https://www.epa.g...r-plants
In their disdain for free markets which create incentives that yield prosperity, the government and many associated with the government (such as Dr. Stokes) have become criminal enterprises.
Since when has marketing been viewed as anti free markets ???
greenonions1
5 / 5 (1) Jul 03, 2017
dingbone
As the result the fossil fuel share cannot go down
Just repeating a lie - does not make it true. Just take one example. Britain is now on track to get 30% of it's electricity from renewables by 2020. This is displacing coal - that is being phased out. http://www.energy...ion.html
https://www.carbo...-by-2025
Dingbone
Jul 03, 2017
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Dingbone
Jul 03, 2017
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
greenonions1
5 / 5 (2) Jul 04, 2017
Oh come on - the UK dependency of oil was never been higher. Draw me impressed.
But the renewables are replacing coal. You know full well that oil is not a major factor in the electricity generation system. The first step on the transition - is the electricity system. Transportation is going to be a tougher egg to crack - especially aviation. But Rome was not built in a day - and it will come - whether you are impressed or not - is of no consequence.
greenonions1
5 / 5 (2) Jul 04, 2017
Dingbone
Nope, the consumption of coal increases worldwide
That's false.

Global coal consumption fell by 1.7%, (-53 mtoe) the second successive annual decline


http://www.bp.com...ion.html

http://www.power-...ine.html

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