Generation gaps in US public opinion on renewable energy and climate change review articles on renewable energy sources
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Generation gaps in US public opinion on renewable energy and climate change review articles on renewable energy sources
In Fig 9 we calculate the corresponding age-group trends from Oregon data. The wider gap between renewable-energy and climate views in this region is obvious from the different height of lines in Fig 9A and 9B . Renewable energy support also rises more steeply than ACC acceptance. A tertiary detail, in which Oregon results echo New Hampshire, is the apparent convergence of middle-aged and older views, as middle-aged views rise less steeply. Respondents 65 and older start out this period below anyone else, but their trends climb upward as well, reaching 75 percent on energy and 60 percent on climate. Toward the end of this period, in both panels there appears to be some convergence of old and middle-aged respondents. Middle-aged percentages start halfway between young and old, but rise less steeply than the others. Adjusted margins plots calculated from models of Table 3 . Click through the PLOS taxonomy to find articles in your field. Weighted percentages for “climate change happening now, caused mainly by human activities” broken down by respondent age, sex, education and ideology or party on surveys conducted in 2018: statewide New Hampshire, and northeast Oregon. Renewable energy and climate questions on the Granite State Poll have been supported by grants from the National Science Foundation , and by the Carsey School of Public Policy and the Sustainability Institute at University of New Hampshire. The Communities and Forests in Oregon project was supported by the Agricultural and Food Research Initiative, U.S. Department of Agriculture . The North Country survey was supported by a grant from the Neil and Louise Tillotson Fund of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation. Support for the POLES surveys occurred through the PoLAR Partnership grant from the National Science Foundation . Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this paper are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of supporting organizations. Although research objectives varied across projects, and to a lesser extent across stages within each project, many surveys carried two standard questions asking about renewable energy and climate change. Table 2 gives the wording of these renew and climate questions, along with codes used for modeling later. The surveys asked also about respondent background characteristics, for the most part with identical wording. One exception is that the New Hampshire surveys asked respondents for their ideological identification, here coded from –2 to 2 . The Oregon surveys recorded political party identification but not ideology, so our analysis employs a simple three-party scheme from –1 to 1 with these data. Political and education variables are centered at zero for use with interaction terms later. Table 2 summarizes the independent variables as well. Funding: Renewable energy and climate questions on the Granite State Poll have been supported by grants from the National Science Foundation , and by the Carsey School of Public Policy and the Sustainability Institute at University of New Hampshire. The Communities and Forests in Oregon project was supported by the Agricultural and Food Research Initiative, U.S. Department of Agriculture . The North Country survey was supported by a grant from the Neil and Louise Tillotson Fund of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation to LCH. Support for the POLES surveys occurred through the PoLAR Partnership grant from the National Science Foundation . Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this paper are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of supporting organizations. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. Replication of the overall percentages seen in Figs 5 and 6 extend to more detailed analyses as well, although sample-to-sample variation increases as we look at smaller subsamples. For example, Fig 7 tracks climate-change percentages separately for each political party, across 34 New Hampshire surveys. The four parties exhibit roughly parallel upward trends. Separation into five levels of ideology from liberal to conservative paints a similar picture as well. Affiliation Department of Sociology, University of New Hampshire, Durham, New Hampshire, United States of America The effects of education vary, however, depending on political identity. The education×ideology or education×party interactions in Table 3 , significant in all but model 3, replicate a result that has been widely noticed in other studies of environment or science-related topics: the partisan spread on many issues widens with education, so better-educated partisans stand the farthest apart. Fig 10 visualizes these effects through adjusted margins plots, calculated from models 1–4 in Table 3 . In both New Hampshire and Oregon data, this interaction is strongest regarding climate change. A similar though weaker effect can be seen in the New Hampshire responses on renewable energy, as well. These findings offer more precise estimates that confirm general conclusions of Hamilton et al. Fig 8 shows a different breakdown, graphing New Hampshire renewable energy and climate change trends separately by age group. Linear trends rather than separate data points are depicted because survey-to-survey variations in mall subsamples otherwise make the graphs hard to read. The pro-environmental or scientific positions within each age group nevertheless show clear upward trends. Millennials, roughly age 18 to 39, stand apart at the top of each panel: they are consistently more likely than older groups to favor renewable energy, or to think that humans are changing the climate. Moreover, support among Millennials has been rising steadily: now past 90 percent on energy and 75 percent on climate. Is the Subject Area "Alternative energy" applicable to this article? Yes No Results from the most recent years of four survey projects. Roles Conceptualization, Funding acquisition, Investigation, Project administration, Supervision Roles Conceptualization, Data curation, Formal analysis, Funding acquisition, Investigation, Methodology, Project administration, Resources, Supervision, Writing – review & editing Affiliation Environmental Studies Program, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado, United States of America Earlier survey research on renewable energy and climate change is extended here using data that include 3,000 new survey interviews, through fall 2018, for two regional time series . The extended timelines broadly confirm earlier trends while filling in new details. We see no short-term impacts on public opinion from events such as the disastrous US hurricanes of 2012, 2017 or 2018. Instead, there have been gradual upward trends in acceptance of anthropogenic climate change, and in support for renewable-energy development. These overall trends are repeated within age groups of our regional series. Climate and renewable-energy views in both regions have similar social profiles, including generational differences, and political divisions that are narrower on renewable energy than climate. Political divisions tend to widen with respondent’s education, an interaction effect noticed previously but here confirmed with very large samples yielding more precise parameter estimates. Multivariate analysis establishes significant age effects net of trends, and trend effects net of age—both pointing toward the direction of future shifts in public opinion on these two interlinked topics. Each of the panels in Fig 10 shows that education has a positive effect on renewable-energy support, or acceptance of ACC, among liberals and moderates . Education has a negative effect, however, on ACC acceptance among the most conservative, or among Republicans, in both New Hampshire and Northeast Oregon . Education similarly has a negative effect on renewable energy support in New Hampshire: better-educated conservatives are less inclined to support it. Education effects on renewable-energy support in northeast Oregon are very weak. Discover a faster, simpler path to publishing in a high-quality journal. PLOS ONE promises fair, rigorous peer review, broad scope, and wide readership – a perfect fit for your research every time. PLOS is a nonprofit 501 corporation, #C2354500, based in San Francisco, California, US Values shown are odds ratios from probability-weighted logit regression with either New Hampshire GSP or NE Oregon CAFOR survey datasets , pooled over all available years. Editor: Kimmo Eriksson, Mälardalen University, SWEDEN A separate result is that, over the period of observation, support for renewable energy and acceptance of anthropogenic climate change have been gradually rising. For each series in both datasets, the increase exceeds 10 percentage points, with renewable energy climbing at slightly faster rates than climate. It is worth noting that these trends are established in models that already account for respondent age, so they do not reflect possible cohort shifts noted above. By the same token, the age effects estimated in those models are independent of overall trends. We see distinct age and temporal patterns in terms of separate upward trends within each age group. These trends add further reason, besides the certainty of cohort replacement and the possibility of more voting by young adults, to think that public support for action on these issues will grow. In this paper we elaborate earlier analyses, drawing on new data that extend the Oregon and New Hampshire timelines through fall 2018. We also draw on a larger set of historical data from New Hampshire, so the total now exceeds 18,000 interviews for some analyses. Extended timelines broadly confirm earlier results, while enabling new analyses including tests for public-opinion impacts from the disastrous hurricane seasons of 2017 and 2018, detailed breakdowns that find similarities in the 2018 social profiles of renewable-energy and climate views in two different regions, comparisons of trend lines for different age groups across each issue and each region, and more precise estimates of interactions as well as distinct age and trend effects. The strong effect sociopolitical identity exerts on US public opinion about climate change is well known, and confirmed once again here. Despite divergence in the rationales regarding climate and renewable-energy development, we see that sociopolitical identity has major impacts on energy views too—but those impacts are somewhat weaker. The education×politics interaction effect, describing a partisan gap that widens with education, appears less pronounced on renewable energy as well. These muted partisan divisions indicate that renewable-energy views are less closely bound to sociopolitical identity, in public opinion as in elite communication such as the campaigns against climate science. Substantively, some conservatives who reject the scientific consensus on climate change nevertheless embrace renewable energy on other grounds, such as employment or income benefits, or contributions to energy independence. At the same time, some moderates or liberals, who agree in principle on the need for greenhouse gas reductions, oppose developments such as wind farms that will have local impacts. Expansion of low-carbon renewable energy remains an essential step for climate-change mitigation, but might be motivated by different arguments in some contexts, and while also requiring more local efforts at public engagement—as renewable-energy proponents tend to be well aware. Is the Subject Area "Climate change" applicable to this article? Yes No We have more data on the climate-change question, which was asked on the same POLES, northeast Oregon and North Country surveys, but also on other nationwide surveys in 2011, 2012 and 2014, along with 35 New Hampshire surveys 2010–2018. Fig 6 tracks these regional and national results. On climate change, New Hampshire public opinion is never far from national opinion, and might be viewed as a reasonable proxy. Hamilton et al. describe the older national surveys in more detail, and tracked New Hampshire results through spring of 2015. Fig 6 updates that analysis with data from POLES 2016, North Country 2017, and New Hampshire and Oregon through 2018. This graph also notes some major events that were widely proposed, at the time, to potentially shift public opinion on climate change. The most recent such events in this timeline are the disastrous US hurricane seasons of 2017 and 2018 . But these hurricane seasons, like the earlier events of Hurricane Sandy , the IPCC 5 th report , and Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change , produce no visible change. Together with science communication, however, such events might contribute to the cumulative rise. Is the Subject Area "Anthropogenic climate change" applicable to this article? Yes No Weighted percentages for “renewable energy higher priority” broken down by respondent age, sex, education and ideology or party on surveys conducted in 2018: statewide New Hampshire, and northeast Oregon. Scientists who study this topic express overwhelming agreement that humans are changing Earth’s climate. Among US political leaders and public, on the other hand, partisan divisions remain wide. . Conservatives are much less likely than moderates or liberals to agree with scientists that ACC is occurring, or that anything should be done to slow it down. The association between climate-change views and sociopolitical identity is so strong, statistically, that climate-change questions might effectively serve as proxies for political identity itself. Renewable-energy opinions also correlate with sociopolitical identity, but that relationship is somewhat weaker for several reasons. Renewable-energy cost, employment or independence arguments appeal to some conservatives; and large-scale energy developments such as wind farms may stir resistance focused on local impacts, regardless of views about climate. Moreover, climate change has been most intensively targeted for opposition by conservative media and elites. Appealing to politically mixed audiences, advocates for renewable energy often choose to emphasize cost, employment, income or energy-independence benefits, downplaying those related to climate. Figs 3 and 4 confirm that in 2018, renewable-energy and climate-change views have similar demographic predictors, which resemble those known for many other environment-related topics. Both exhibit steep political gradients, and milder but also significant age gradients. In detail, this four-way comparison reveals something else. Although the ideological or partisan gaps regarding renewable energy on both surveys are wide, they are less wide than the corresponding gaps regarding climate change. So renewable energy opinions do strongly correlate with politics, but not as strongly as climate-change opinions—as inferred indirectly from regional comparisons in Figs 1 and 2 . Linear trends by age group on northeast Oregon surveys 2011–2018, for “renewable energy higher priority”, or “climate change happening now, caused mainly by human activities”. Linear trends by age group on statewide New Hampshire surveys for “renewable energy higher priority” 2012–2018, or “climate change happening now, caused mainly by human activities” 2010–2018. Generation gaps in US public opinion on renewable energy and climate change review articles on renewable energy sourcesGeneration gaps in US public opinion on renewable energy and climate change review articles on renewable energy sources Decades of survey research on the social bases of environmental concern has established robust patterns with regard to respondent age, sex, education and politics. Concern about environmental problems, across many different topics, tends to be higher among younger, female and better educated respondents. In some data one or more of these effects may be relatively weak or not significant, but they almost always point in the same direction. The most consistently dominant predictors of environmental concern, however, are ideology or political identity: conservatives less often view environmental problems as serious. For more information about PLOS Subject Areas, click here . Roles Conceptualization, review articles on renewable energy sources Data curation, Formal analysis, Funding acquisition, Investigation, Methodology, Software, Validation, Visualization, Writing – original draft, Writing – review & editing Data analyzed here come from four projects summarized in Table 1 . For each project, trained personnel at the Survey Center of the University of New Hampshire conducted cell and landline telephone interviews with randomly-sampled participants. The nationwide POLES survey took place in two stages just before and after the 2016 presidential elections, with little difference in the main response patterns. The North Country survey took place in summer 2017, interviewing residents of four rural counties in northern New England. Two other regional projects, covering New Hampshire and northeast Oregon, each involved a series of surveys carried out with independent random samples from 2010 or 2011 to 2018. Many papers present results from the various Oregon surveys up to 2015 , and New Hampshire surveys up to 2017. Results from the 2018 Oregon and New Hampshire surveys are described for the first time in this paper. Is the Subject Area "Age groups" applicable to this article? Yes No With each individual survey, probability weights were calculated for adjustments toward more representative results. Following standard formulas, the weights compensate for potential bias arising from sampling design or from differential responses with respect to population age/sex distributions of the places being polled at that time. Consequently, after weighting the results should reasonably represent target populations. Effects of this weighting tend to be substantively minor. For example, support for renewable energy development among POLES respondents equals 67 percent before weighting and 72 percent after; among North Country respondents the corresponding results are 75 percent before and 78 percent after. Weighted results, which better represent regional or nationwide populations, appear in all tables and graphs of this paper. Is the Subject Area "New Hampshire" applicable to this article? Yes No
Is it happening now, but caused mainly by natural forces? Or is climate change not happening now? Results from the most recent years of four survey projects. Fig 3 and Fig 4 show that these propositions apply to views on renewable energy and climate change. In each figure the panels depicts 2018 New Hampshire data, and the panels the 2018 Oregon data. Generally similar results also occurred in the North Country and nationwide surveys, and in earlier years from the New Hampshire and Oregon projects . Younger, female and better educated respondents more often prioritize renewable energy, and more often agree that humans are changing Earth’s climate. Across each of these four panels, ideological or political indicators have by far the strongest effects, with liberal-conservative or Democrat-Republican gaps of 53 or 44 points on renewable energy, and 71 or 50 points on climate. Age differences are less strong but also consistent, with young versus old gaps of 13 or 17 points on renewable energy, and 16 or 22 points on climate. Both the renewable-energy results in Fig 5 and the climate-change results in Fig 6 exhibit minor survey-to-survey fluctuations, within sampling error bars. Overall, however, they show substantial consistency around upward trends. Northeast Oregon acceptance of ACC remains well below national or northeastern levels, but drifts similarly upward over this period. Multivariate analysis will later establish that the trends of both Oregon and New Hampshire series in Figs 5 and 6 are statistically significant. The two highest values in Fig 1 , 78 or 82 percent favoring renewable energy, represent recent surveys in comparatively moderate and mixed regions: the North Country or New Hampshire . The renew response “Increased exploration and drilling for oil” echoes a campaign slogan—“Drill, baby, drill”—popularized by Republicans during the 2008 US presidential race, then revived in 2012 and 2016. Despite substantial Republican presence in every region assessed, this response was chosen by less than a quarter of the respondents. Odds ratios significantly above 1.0 for year , across all four models in Table 3 , confirm the upward drift of support for renewable energy and acceptance of ACC in both New Hampshire and Oregon data . We also see odds ratios below 1.0 for age across all four models . That is, older respondents in both New Hampshire and Oregon are less inclined to prioritize renewable energy, and also less inclined to believe that humans are changing the climate. The year and age effects agree with simpler results visualized in Figs 8 and 9 : clear ordering and wide separation of response preferences by age regardless of trend , but also upward trends regardless of age . Women accept the reality of ACC at higher rates than men do in our New Hampshire data, but other sex differences in Table 3 are not significant. Education , like age and year , affects responses across all four models. Because education appears also in interactions with ideology or party , these main effects from education represent the positive influence of education among political moderates or Independents . Moderates or Independents who have college educations are more likely than their peers to support renewable energy, and to think that ACC is real. By similar reasoning, the main effects of ideology and party represent the effects of these characteristics among respondents who completed technical school or some college . For more information about PLOS Subject Areas, click here . Shown with codes used for logit regression analyses in Table 3 . Order of response choices for renew and climate were rotated across interviews. The topics of climate change and renewable energy are often linked in policy discussions and scientific analysis. Mitigation of increasingly severe impacts from anthropogenic climate change will require steep reductions in fossil fuel burning, and corresponding shifts to energy from renewable sources that produce less greenhouse gases—such as electricity generated by wind, solar or tidal power. Reduction of greenhouse gas emissions therefore becomes a key argument favoring renewable-energy development. It is not the only argument, however. Renewable energy offers economic advantages including lower costs as well as new jobs, and income to producers or landowners. Compared with coal or oil, it tends to generate less pollution of land, air and water. Decentralized renewable energy such as rooftop solar also promises some degree of consumer independence. These non-greenhouse arguments appeal to many of the same people concerned about climate change, but they can also reach beyond, to some who reject the reality of ACC. At the same time, the perceived impacts of large-scale energy developments such as wind farms can inspire local opposition from people who otherwise might support action on climate change. Thus, renewable energy has potentially broader appeal, but sometimes also broader-based opposition, compared with public concern about climate change. From 2012 through fall of 2018, 13 New Hampshire surveys with a combined total of 7,707 interviews carried the renewable-energy question, as did four northeast Oregon surveys with 3,782 interviews. Fig 5 tracks these regional-survey results, along with results on the same question from the POLES and North Country surveys. Unlike Figs 1 – 4 which depict only the most recent years of each project, Fig 5 and subsequent graphs employ all available data for the analysis shown. The number of observations fluctuates, because some questions were not asked on some surveys. The upper line in Fig 5 , drifting up about 21 points, tracks the percentage of New Hampshire respondents who prioritize renewable energy. The lower line shows an upward drift of about 14 points among northeast Oregon respondents. Nationwide results from the POLES surveys appear slightly lower than contemporary New Hampshire results; North Country results match New Hampshire almost exactly. Error bars depict the 95 percent confidence intervals for each survey. We see minor survey-to-survey variations, within the range of sampling error, but the main visual impression is how stable percentages appear, from one survey to the next. Their short-term stability reflects use of consistent sampling and interview methods, repeating a straightforward question. An earlier paper based on Oregon data through 2015 and New Hampshire through 2017 observed similar upward trends, which are now seen continuing in these longer time series. How similar or different are the social bases of support for renewable-energy development, compared with those for concern about climate change? Is public opinion shifting similarly on both topics? In a recent paper we explored these questions using data from four US survey projects—three regional and one national in scope. The nationwide survey took place in 2016, with stages just before and after the presidential elections. The three regional surveys involve places with recent and controversial wind energy developments, as described by Hamilton et al. One of the regional surveys, in the North Country of northern New England, occurred in summer of 2017. The other two regional projects, in northeast Oregon and New Hampshire, each involved a series of surveys carried out over multiple years—2011 to 2015 in Oregon, and 2010 or 2012 to 2017 in New Hampshire. Affiliation Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of New Hampshire, Durham, New Hampshire, United States of America Is the Subject Area "Political parties" applicable to this article? Yes No Our results include several new findings as well: no visible impacts on public opinion from five disastrous hurricanes that struck the US in just two seasons, 2017 and 2018; and detailed correspondences between the social bases of renewable energy support, and of ACC acceptance, across two very different US regions. Those results highlight stability, but other findings hint at future change. First, there are consistent age effects. In the most recent surveys more than 90 percent of New Hampshire respondents age 18 to 29 favor renewable energy, as do 77 percent in northeast Oregon. Those fractions are 13 or 17 points higher than they are among people over age 65. The generation gap is even wider regarding climate change. Age has significant positive effects on both climate and energy views even after controlling for sex, education, political identification and year of survey. Assuming no change in people’s individual views, gradual cohort replacement could raise public acceptance of renewable energy and other climate-change mitigation steps. If voter participation rates among young adults rise, as some observers expect, the balance might shift more quickly. Is the Subject Area "Surveys" applicable to this article? Yes No Fig 2 charts response to the climate-change question in parallel fashion. Again, only the most recent years of each project are shown; in New Hampshire the climate question was asked more frequently than renew , so we have more observations. US, New Hampshire and North Country results are quite similar: 64 to 67 percent agreeing with the scientific consensus that climate change is happening now, caused mainly by human activities. In contrast, fewer than half of the northeast Oregon respondents accept this consensus. The gap between northeast Oregon and US views on this item is 16 points , double what we saw on renewable energy. The Oregon respondents are comparatively more likely than nationwide or other regional respondents to think climate is changing mainly for natural reasons or even that it is not changing , despite summer warming that has worsened the wildfires affecting their region. Is the Subject Area "Oregon" applicable to this article? Yes No Figs 3 and 4 chart bivariate relationships between renewable-energy or climate responses and four background factors that often predict environment-related views. Figs 5 – 9 track the upward drift in these views over time. Table 3 tests these background and timing factors together. The table gives odds ratios from four weighted logistic regression models with respondent characteristics and yearly trend as predictors. Each model draws on all available data—including more historical survey data as well as the most recent, so estimation samples include about 1,000 additional interviews for both Oregon models, and 700 to 14,000 additional interviews for New Hampshire, compared with previously published analyses. Consequently, parameter estimates here are more precise. Comparisons between renewable-energy and climate-change views in Figs 1 and 2 suggest that renewable energy development is viewed favorably by many people who do not believe that human activities are changing the climate. Moreover, the aggregate results imply that renewable energy views correlate less strongly with politics. The next section tests this inference directly, and explores how other characteristics correlate with these views. Strimling et al., analyzing responses to “moral issue” questions on the US General Social Survey over the past 40 years, find a common theoretical explanation that fits divergent trends. Public opinion has become more favorable toward positions whose moral foundations involve fairness and harm, values favored by liberals and conservatives alike. Opinion has not moved as much on issues whose moral foundations involve authority, loyalty or purity, values favored mainly by conservatives. This moral-issue analysis does not address environmental, economic or policy-effectiveness issues, which have central importance for energy and climate. Fairness and harm values have also been prominent in discourse on energy and climate, however, so the Strimling et al. moral dynamic might contribute to the upward trends observed in our study as well. In the New Hampshire and Oregon series, as will be seen, response patterns on the renewable energy and climate questions both changed over time. Fig 1 charts responses to renewable-energy responses from the most recent year of each project: 2016 for the US POLES survey, 2017 for North Country, or 2018 for northeast Oregon and New Hampshire. Large majorities of the respondents on each survey, between 64 and 82 percent, consider increased use of renewable energy to be a higher priority. The lowest number, 64 percent favoring renewable energy, represents northeast Oregon—politically a very conservative region, where 67 to 73 percent of the voters in each county supported Trump in 2016. Despite that region’s general conservativism, support for renewable energy is only 8 points lower in northeast Oregon than it is nationwide . Citation: Hamilton LC, Hartter J, Bell E Generation gaps in US public opinion on renewable energy and climate change. PLoS ONE 14: e0217608. The topics of climate change and renewable energy are often linked in policy discussions and scientific analysis, but public opinion on these topics exhibits both overlap and divergence. Although renewable energy has potentially broader acceptance than anthropogenic climate change, it can also face differently-based opposition. Analyses of US and regional surveys, including time series of repeated surveys in New Hampshire and northeast Oregon , explore the social bases and trends of public views on both issues. Political divisions are prominent, although somewhat greater regarding climate change due to substantive differences and more partisan opposition. Regarding climate change and to a lesser extent renewable energy, political divisions tends to widen with education. There also are robust age and temporal effects: younger adults more often prioritize renewable energy development, and agree with scientists on the reality of anthropogenic climate change . Across all age groups and both regional series, support for renewable energy and recognition of ACC have been gradually rising. Contrary to widespread speculation, these trends have not visibly responded to events such as the US hurricanes of 2012, 2017 or 2018. Together with age-cohort replacement and the potential for changes in age-group voting participation, however, the gradual trends suggest that public pressure for action on these issues could grow. The Fig 10 results join a substantial list of other studies and datasets where education×politics or similar interaction effects are reported. The “right-facing megaphone” shape of polarization widening with education, as seen in Fig 10A, 10B and 10D , reflects a pervasive reality of current US politics. Received: February 27, 2019; Accepted: May 16, 2019; Published: July 10, 2019 Competing interests: solar power newspaper article