Americans Getting Tired of Clean Coal, Biofuels, Carbon Offsets & Cap-and-Trade

Sweeter Alternative/CC BY-ND 2.0

There's a new survey from Pike Research, the Energy & Environment Consumer Survey, which GreenBiz is highlighting, that has some interesting stats on how US adults feel about various renewable energy and cleantech programs.

The survey gauges whether people feel favorably or unfavorably about solar power, wind power, hybrid cars, electric vehicles, natural gas vehicles, clean coal, nuclear power, biofuels, smart meters, the smart grid, carbon offsets, LEED certification, and cap-and-trade—and how these have changed over the past two years.

Important to note: It specifically didn't ask people why they felt the way they did, so there's a wide open field of speculation possible, for better and worse.

Americans' Most-Favored Cleantech

Solar power—Roughly 80% view it "extremely" or "very" favorably over the past three years and roughly 5% view it "strongly" or "somewhat" unfavorably.

Wind power—Though significant drops in favorability were seen in the past two years, still 71% of people were extremely or very favorable about it, with under 10% strongly or somewhat unfavorable.

Hybrid cars & Electric cars—These received 61% and 55% extremely and very favorable views, contrasted against 10% and 16% strongly or somewhat unfavorable views in 2011.

Which is perhaps what you could guess. What is more interesting to me is what's fallen out of favor.

Americans' Least-Favored Cleantech

Clean Coal—Though the number of people have a strongly/somewhat unfavorable view of clean coal has remained hovering around 11% in the past three years, the percentage of people with extremely/somewhat favorable views has dropped from 52% in 2009 to 42% today.

Biofuels—Though under 10% of Americans view them strongly/somewhat unfavorably, since 2009 biofuels extremely/very favorable rating has fallen from 56% to 39% in 2011.

Carbon Offsets & Carbon Credits—These really have taken a hit among the American public. The percentage of people having extremely/very favorable views of these has fallen from 26% in 2009 to 19% in 2011, with strongly/somewhat unfavorable views climbing from 20% to 25% in the same time period.

LEED Certification—Though this has had little change on either end of the scale in the past three years, still just 18% of Americans now have extremely/very favorable views, with 9% now have strongly/somewhat unfavorable views.

Cap-and-trade—Small numbers here too: 14% viewing this extremely/somewhat favorably, a steady figure since 2009, with the strongly/somewhat unfavorable percentage rising from 12% in 2009 to 22% today.

Again, people weren't asked about why they felt this way, so I'll make some guesses based on what I've seen covering these concepts extensively for the time period surveyed.

So Why The Changes?

LEED and Cap-and-trade's low figures on either end of the scale seem pretty obvious. Most people still scratch their heads when you mention cap-and-trade, despite the fact that pricing carbon is perhaps the essential tool in combatting climate change. That's probably the result of 1) carbon pricing being a hopelessly wonky economic subject for most people and 2) communicating the importance of it to a public who likely slept through all but Econ 101 and only took that because it was a requirement is a genuinely difficult thing in a sensationalistly saturated media environment. LEED is simply not relevant to the day to day lives of most people, especially in the midst of the Great Recession—for better or worse.

As for carbon offsets/credits and biofuels, both have been called in serious question as genuine long-term cleantech and clean energy solutions in the time period of the survey. Even if not in the headlines constantly for the general public, both have had their reputations seriously tarnished—even if from my perspective each does have a place in transitioning off fossil fuels and powering our world without them, though to a much smaller degree than backers of both would like them to be and touted in the past three years.

Clean coals fall from extremely/very favorable status is likely again the result of questions being raised about its potential (as in, there's no such thing as clean coal, despite what the industry would have you believe). Prior to 2009 politicians on both sides of the aisle touted clean coal, and still do today, but the voices for it have grown quieter. That such a small percentage view it decisively unfavorably indicates to me that perhaps more needs to be done to truly, once and for all, sully coal's reputation—to full convince people that in anything other than the most myopic short term view it's just an environmental disaster.

Tags: Biofuels | Carbon Offsets | Clean Coal