Climate change, fossil fuel use, and public opinion
Do alternative energy sources displace fossil fuels?
Richard York, Nature Climate Change, forthcoming
Abstract: A fundamental, generally implicit, assumption of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change reports and many energy analysts is that each unit of energy supplied by non-fossil-fuel sources takes the place of a unit of energy supplied by fossil-fuel sources. However, owing to the complexity of economic systems and human behaviour, it is often the case that changes aimed at reducing one type of resource consumption, either through improvements in efficiency of use or by developing substitutes, do not lead to the intended outcome when net effects are considered. Here, I show that the average pattern across most nations of the world over the past fifty years is one where each unit of total national energy use from non-fossil-fuel sources displaced less than one-quarter of a unit of fossil-fuel energy use and, focusing specifically on electricity, each unit of electricity generated by non-fossil-fuel sources displaced less than one-tenth of a unit of fossil-fuel-generated electricity. These results challenge conventional thinking in that they indicate that suppressing the use of fossil fuel will require changes other than simply technical ones such as expanding non-fossil-fuel energy production.
Declining public concern about climate change: Can we blame the great recession?
Lyle Scruggs & Salil Benegal, Global Environmental Change, forthcoming
Abstract: Social surveys suggest that the American public's concern about climate change has declined dramatically since 2008. This has led to a search for explanations for this decline, and great deal of speculation that there has been a fundamental shift in public trust in climate science. We evaluate over thirty years of public opinion data about global warming and the environment, and suggest that the decline in belief about climate change is most likely driven by the economic insecurity caused by the Great Recession. Evidence from European nations further supports an economic explanation for changing public opinion. The pattern is consistent with more than forty years of public opinion about environmental policy. Popular alternative explanations for declining support – partisan politicization, biased media coverage, fluctuations in short-term weather conditions – are unable to explain the suddenness and timing of opinion trends. The implication of these findings is that the “crisis of confidence” in climate change will likely rebound after labor market conditions improve, but not until then.
Nod to Kevin Lewis