2019 was the year of climate activism with Greta Thunberg becoming a global icon and activist organisations like Fridays for Future and Extinction Rebellion putting climate action firmly on top of the global agenda. The results were the proposal for a Green New Deal in the United States and the European Commission’s European Green Deal.
But 2019 seems like a lifetime ago and one of the things I look out for are signs of how the public attitude towards climate action may have changed in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic.
In this respect, I find a recent survey by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication interesting. Around the 20 April (i.e. in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic and at a point when many people were in lockdown), they asked c. 2,000 Americans whether different industries deserve a bailout. One of the key questions was, whether Americans believed that states should prioritize the renewable energy industry over the fossil fuel energy industry in its bailouts or the other way around. 75% of Americans said they prefer government bailouts and stimulus packages to go to renewable energy companies, rather than oil & gas companies. That is about the same margin in favour of promoting renewable energy that we have seen in a related survey in September 2019.
Americans favour the renewable energy industry by a wide margin
Source: Yale Program on Climate Change Communication
But what makes me even more hopeful that climate action will not suddenly be a low priority for people (and hence politicians) after the current crisis is over, are the results of the survey by party affiliation. More than 80% of Democrats and Independents favour the renewable energy industry over the fossil fuel industry, but so do 58% of Republicans. This is a country that has amongst the highest rates of climate skeptics in the world and where one party has been captured by fossil fuel special interests and parts of the media try to downplay climate change as best they can. Yet, all these efforts seem to fall on deaf ears. Even the Republican base has understood the signs of the times and prefers government action to promote green industries rather than giving handouts to the old guard. The times, they are a’changing.