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. Analysis: Poll finds energy tax support

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by Rosalie Westenskow
The Dalles, Ore. (UPI) Nov 13, 2007
Not only does the world's population feel increasingly concerned about climate change, but a recent survey finds a majority of individuals, both in and out of developed countries, say they're willing to lighten their wallets to stop the warming trend.

The poll, conducted by the international polling firm GlobeScan and the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland, surveyed almost 22,000 people in 21 countries, including the United States, China, Nigeria, the Philippines and Australia. The survey's margin of error varied from 2.4 to 3.5 percentage points depending on the sample size in each of the countries polled.

The results demonstrate an increasing willingness to support clean-energy initiatives, even if it means forking over extra cash. The majority of individuals polled in every country said they would support a tax on greenhouse-gas emitting energy sources, like oil or coal, if the revenue went to the development of more efficient and environmentally friendly energy technologies. Overall, more than three out of four, 77 percent, of those polled said they would back such a proposal.

Political leaders may want to take a look at the findings when considering energy legislation, said Doug Miller, GlobeScan's president.

"While few citizens welcome higher taxes, the poll suggests that national leaders could succeed in introducing a carbon tax on energy," Miller said in a statement. "The key requirement is that their citizens trust that the resulting tax revenues will be invested in addressing climate change by increasing energy efficiency and developing cleaner fuels."

That does appear essential in garnering support, as only half of those polled said they would favor a non-renewable energy tax if the revenue were not devoted to greening energy options. The survey found substantial majorities in every country polled said those in their respective countries will have to alter some aspects of their lifestyle and behaviors to decrease greenhouse gas emissions and slow climate change.

This is no exception in the United States, the world's largest carbon dioxide emitter and one of the only industrialized countries that do not back the Kyoto Protocol -- an international treaty aimed at decreasing climate-changing gases. Of those polled in the United States, 79 percent said lifestyle changes will be a necessary precursor to substantial cuts in harmful emissions.

The statistics, along with surveys performed in the past, suggest the world's citizens are ahead of their governments on climate-change issues, Miller told United Press International.

"Our tracking research clearly shows that the rise of citizen climate concerns has pre-dated government words and actions on the issue," he said.

But citizen concerns have pushed some governments, most notably Britain and France, toward action, Miller said, and the issue has become a major factor in elections, even in the anti-Kyoto countries of Australia, Canada and the United States.

The findings are so significant precisely because those polled expressed a willingness to do more than their respective governments ask them to, said Steven Kull, director of the Program on International Policy Attitudes, which helped conduct the survey.

"They're willing to pay more, they're willing to make lifestyle changes," Kull told UPI.

Concerns about climate change may not be the only reason so many seem willing to back green-energy policies, though. Worries over the rising cost of oil and the national security risks associated with importing large quantities from the Middle East may have prompted many of those polled to answer as they did, Kull said.

Although this survey did not specify actual monetary amounts individuals would be willing to hand over for an energy tax, Kull said previous surveys conducted by PIPA have found U.S. citizens could stomach a $15 to $25 increase in energy bills each month.

The willingness to pay extends into the developing world as well, including those polled in China, the No. 2 carbon dioxide emitter. In fact, a substantial majority, 85 percent, of Chinese surveyed agreed they would support an energy tax -- a higher percentage than in any other country.

One of the reasons the Chinese feel motivated to act on this issue may lie in their image with the rest of the world, Kull said.

"As they ascend to become a world power żż one of the strengths they have is that people respect them," he said. "(Their stance on carbon emissions) is something that they think is important to maintain a good image with other nations."

Their willingness may also stem from immediate discomfort, said Christopher Whitney, executive director for studies at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, a non-partisan research organization.

"Chinese cities are among the most polluted in the world," said Whitney, who worked on a public opinion poll in China last year regarding climate-change issues. "They're dealing with that on a daily basis and they clearly want action taken."

Although the chemicals comprising smog are different from carbon dioxide, the most prevalent climate-changing gas, they often result from the same sources, and practices that would decrease one would likely decrease the other. The pollution causes daily annoyances as well as long-term disease.

"When I was there last year, I had huge problems -- sinus problems and others," Whitney told UPI.

Because of the smog, Chinese officials are fronting a massive effort to clear the air for the upcoming Olympics scheduled for next summer in Beijing.

Only urban Chinese were included in the survey sample, which may also have contributed to the high responses, but Whitney said the survey he worked on last year showed China's rural population, 56 percent at the end of 2006, has similar concerns.

And the Chinese government is responding to the public sentiment. Part of its efforts stem from the Olympic initiative, but the government has also launched a recent effort to green buildings and increase energy efficiency.

"If you look at what the Chinese government is saying, they are paying much more attention to what their population has been saying about this," Whitney said.

While the poll illustrated a properly constructed energy tax could gain the support of most individuals, passing such legislation in the U.S. Congress doesn't appear to be on the horizon. Neither the House nor the Senate included such a measure in the major energy legislation packets they passed earlier this fall. Instead, efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions lie in increased standards for gas mileage in automobiles and a required percentage of electrical power generated from renewable sources.

The likelihood of a carbon tax surfacing in future legislation may be slim, said Eben Burnham-Snyder, spokesman for Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., chairman of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.

A cap-and-trade system, limiting the amount of emissions entities can put into the atmosphere and establishing a market to buy and sell shares of emissions, seems the more popular approach in Congress at the moment.

"The cap-and-trade approach is the main one lawmakers are looking at right now, not any sort of carbon or energy tax," Burnham-Snyder told UPI. "(Cap-and-trade) is an American-originated idea."

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