Americans care about greenhouse gas emissions, but not enough to raise gas taxes

Jan. 1, 2020
Even though many Americans are concerned about the environment, most are concerned about their wallets as well. A recent study shows that increasing the gasoline tax to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is not a popular option. According to a nationwid
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Even though many Americans are concerned about the environment, most are concerned about their wallets as well. A recent study shows that increasing the gasoline tax to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is not a popular option.

According to a nationwide survey by the National Center for Public Policy Research, 48 percent of Americans are unwilling to spend even a penny more in gasoline taxes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The poll found just 18 percent of Americans are willing to pay 50 cents or more in taxes per gallon to reduce greenhouse emissions. Rep. John Dingell. D-Mich., has called for a 50 cents per gallon gas tax increase.

"With one-fifth of all U.S. CO2 emissions coming from light trucks and cars, any serious effort to significantly reduce U.S. emissions would have to encourage fuel conservation in personal automobiles," says David Ridenour, vice president of the National Center for Public Policy Research. "But almost half of all Americans oppose spending more for gasoline, despite polls indicating wide public concern over global warming. These results suggest Americans' concern may not be as deep as we've been led to believe."

Opposition to increased gasoline taxes was especially strong among minorities.

"It's not surprising that many minorities oppose higher gas taxes, as such taxes are sharply regressive, harming the economically-disadvantaged disproportionately," says Ridenour.

Voters were told: "Congress is currently considering legislation that would raise the tax on gasoline in an attempt to motivate Americans to conserve fuel and reduce greenhouse gas emissions." They were asked how much more they'd be willing to pay in gasoline taxes and given seven choices: nothing, less than 50 cents, 50 cents, one dollar, two dollars, five dollars, eight dollars or more.

18 percent were willing to pay 50 cents or more; 8 percent a dollar or more and 2 percent $2 or more.

Opposition to gas tax hikes was strongest in the Great Lakes (56 percent), New England (51 percent) and the Farm Belt (50 percent).

Opposition grew when respondents were informed that eliminating cars in the U.S. altogether would only reduce world emissions by a fraction.

Among those willing to pay more for gasoline to reduce emissions, 58 percent are less willing to do so, and 42 percent much less willing, when informed their sacrifice would produce little positive results.

"Many global warming polls ask the wrong questions," says Ridenour. "We shouldn't ask Americans if action is needed on global warming, but how much more they're willing to pay for that action. We need to also ask whether people would still be willing to pay more, given the almost certain futility of it."

Full results may be found at http://www.nationalcenter.org/NCPPR_Global_Warming_Poll_Questions_0208.pdf.

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