EPC Resource Library / Weekly Roundups

Environmental Polling Roundup – January 27, 2023





Data for Progress

Voters widely agree that “environmental justice” is important when the concept is explained to them; voters also generally support the Justice40 initiative, despite disagreements on how to implement it (Release, Topline)

Environmental justice is one of the most under-polled aspects of environmental policy, and this new release from Data for Progress helps to fill the void with some encouraging data.

They find that just over three-quarters of voters (77%) say that it’s at least “somewhat” important for lawmakers to consider environmental justice when creating environmental laws, including 42% who say it’s “very important” for lawmakers to consider environmental justice.

This is after respondents read the following description of the term: “Environmental justice means ensuring the fair treatment and involvement of all people – regardless of race, color, national origin, or income – in the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.”

The definition of the term is important here because we know that Americans struggle to grasp what “environmental justice” means without context. A 2020 poll from WE ACT for Environmental Justice and EDF, for example, found that most Americans admitted to being unfamiliar with the term “environmental injustice.”

In a question about President Biden’s Justice40 Initiative, the Data for Progress poll additionally finds that most voters support environmental justice as a principle for policy when there’s an explicit emphasis on disadvantaged communities.

Voters support the Justice40 Initiative by a 54%-33% margin after reading the following description:

“Two years ago, President Biden signed an executive order creating the Justice40 Initiative as part of an overall environmental justice strategy. Justice40 ensures disadvantaged communities will receive 40 percent of the overall benefits of federal investments on climate change, clean energy and energy efficiency, workforce development, and other related categories.”

Voters of color are especially supportive of the Justice40 initiative, and of making environmental justice a consideration for lawmakers generally. More than two-thirds of Black (72%) and Hispanic (68%) voters support Justice40 and more than eight in ten Black (84%) and Hispanic (86%) voters say that it’s “very” or “somewhat” important for lawmakers to consider environmental justice when they create environmental laws.

White voters, meanwhile, widely agree that it’s at least “somewhat” important for lawmakers to consider environmental justice (75%) but only half support the Justice40 Initiative after learning about it (50% support / 38% oppose).

When it comes to delivering on the promises of the Justice40 Initiative for disadvantaged communities, voters are split on who they trust most to “[deliver] these benefits to disadvantaged communities in a way that is impartial, timely, and transparent.”

Roughly one-third of voters (32%) say that they trust local governments most in this role, just over one-quarter (27%) say that they trust state governments most, and about one in five (21%) say that they have the most trust in the federal government.

Democrats (36%) and Black voters (37%) have relatively higher trust in the federal government, while Republicans are particularly unlikely to trust the federal government (10%) to follow through on Justice40 in a way that is “impartial, timely, and transparent” – indicating that voters’ trust in the federal government to deliver on Justice40 correlates to some degree with their feelings about Biden.


People continue to underestimate how much others around them care about climate change; changing seasonal weather patterns have influenced most Americans’ levels of climate concern (Release, Report, Topline)

The latest national polling from ecoAmerica reaffirms an important finding in climate polling: while Americans are widely concerned about climate change, they underestimate the degree to which people around them are concerned about it as well.

ecoAmerica finds that more than seven in ten Americans (72%) are at least “somewhat” concerned about climate change, including 42% who are “very” concerned about the problem. When asked to rate the concerns of people around them, however, only 52% say that those around them are at least “somewhat” concerned about climate change and just 14% describe those around them as “very” concerned.

There’s a clear disconnect here, with Americans systematically underrating the extent to which people around them share their climate concerns, and it’s consistent with previous polling. A September 2022 survey by FiveThirtyEight and Ipsos, for example, found that 63% of Americans recognized that climate change is mostly caused by humans but less than half (45%) believed that this was the majority viewpoint

The fact that Americans underrate the climate-consciousness of those around them suggests that it would be beneficial to raise awareness about the public agreement on the issue, potentially emboldening people to be more vocal about their climate concerns and creating more positive social feedback loops. The ecoAmerica poll finds that most Americans are comfortable talking about climate change with their family (67%) and friends (64%), but that still leaves about one-third who aren’t comfortable discussing the issue even with those closest to them.

Further, only 29% say that they’re comfortable talking about climate change with their co-workers and only 27% say that they’re comfortable discussing the issue with their neighbors.

The poll also asked about the factors that have influenced Americans’ climate concerns, and found that both knowledge and direct experience play significant roles. The majority of Americans (54%) say that changing seasonal weather patterns have influenced their level of concern about climate change, while more than two in five also say that their concerns have been influenced by learning more about climate change (45%) and by experiencing climate change-related events like wildfires, severe storms, flooding, or extreme heat (41%).

On the topic of climate solutions, ecoAmerica finds that only about half of Americans feel that climate solutions like solar energy and electric cars are currently accessible to them. Just under half (48%) describe these solutions as at least “somewhat” accessible, while 52% describe them as “not so” or “not at all” accessible.

The poll finds that perceived access to climate solutions like solar energy and electric cars correlates strongly with income: less than half of respondents in income brackets under $75,000 rate these solutions as accessible, while most respondents (51%-56%) in income brackets between $75,000 and $149,999 believe them to be accessible and 60%+ of respondents in income brackets above $150,000 believe them to be accessible.

Yale Program on Climate Change Communication (YPCCC)

Americans perceive “carbon pollution” and “carbon emissions” to be more harmful than “greenhouse gas emissions” (Article)

A new academic paper, summarized by the YPCCC in the article linked above, finds an important distinction in the language that advocates use to talk about climate change: the terms “carbon pollution” and “carbon emissions” are more effective for communicating about the harms and causes of climate change to the general public than “greenhouse gas emissions.”

Excerpting from the article, with emphasis added in bold:

In communication, it is important to use terms that are understood by and resonate with one’s audience. Word choices can influence people’s thoughts and feelings, policy support, and even behavior. In climate change discourse, greenhouse gas emissions, carbon emissions, and carbon pollution are often used interchangeably to refer to carbon dioxide and methane emissions, the main causes of global warming. In this study, we investigated how Americans interpret and respond to these different terms.

The experiment randomly assigned respondents (N = 2,859) to one of three conditions, with identical questions except for the key terms: greenhouse gas emissions, carbon emissions, or carbon pollution. The outcomes we measured included affect (i.e., good or bad feelings associated with the term), beliefs about environmental and health harms of each term, and respondents’ understanding of the links between fossil fuels and climate change. We also collected respondents’ top-of-mind associations to their assigned term.

We found that the terms carbon pollution and carbon emissions are more strongly associated than the term greenhouse gas emissions with harm to human health, the environment, and poor air quality… Respondents were also more likely to understand that burning fossil fuels generates carbon emissions than that fossil fuels generate greenhouse gas emissions. This suggests that carbon emissions and carbon pollution are stronger terms than greenhouse gas emissions for conveying the causes and impacts of climate change.

Overall, we find that the terms carbon emissions and carbon pollution appear to better communicate the causes and harms of climate change than does the term greenhouse gas emissions. However, given that greenhouse gas emissions technically include non-carbon based compounds (e.g., nitrous oxide) that cause climate change, the term may be best suited in settings like scientific and technical discussions.”

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