Global warming may be a hot topic of conversation among scientists and political policymakers, but when it comes to swaying public opinion, the subject leaves most Americans cold, according to David Konisky PhD ’06, associate professor of public and environmental affairs at Indiana University.
“Global warming is not an major factor for Americans when judging energy sources,” Konisky says. “Most of the public isn’t willing to pay very much to address climate change.”
Konisky is a 2006 PhD graduate of the MIT-SHASS Department of Political Science, which observes its 50th anniversary this fall. He was on campus Thursday, Sept. 17, to present a talk entitled, “Cheap and Clean: How Americans Think About Energy in the Age of Global Warming.” The talk, sponsored by the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI), summarized the key findings of Konisky’s award-winning 2014 book of the same title, which he co-authored with Harvard University professor of government, Stephen Ansolabehere.
Americans have a consumer point of view about energy
Konisky said their research found that Americans look at energy the way they look at other consumer products — by weighing key attributes: In the case of energy, Americans care most about financial cost and local environmental harm.
This consumer-type analysis trumps other biases one might expect to see in this arena, Konisky said. “It turns out that just knowing how people perceive the environmental harms and economic costs of energy sources explains about 80 percent of the variation in their attitudes [toward the use of various fuels]. Other factors — like political preferences, education, and income — don’t really matter much.” Read more