Researchers have "found that the context in which renewable energy policy is framed--particularly in terms of jobs, electricity costs, and pollution--has a tremendous impact on a person's opinion of it."
THE FIRST RULE of advocating for climate change-related legislation is: do not talk about "climate change." The term has become so polarizing that its mere mention can cause reasonable people to draw seemingly immutable lines in the political sand.
"In some ways, it functions as what we would call a 'dog-whistle,'" says Leah Stokes, professor of political science at the University of California, Santa Barbara, referring to a term or statement that, while innocent-sounding enough to most people, encodes deeper and more specific meanings to certain audiences.
For many conservatives, the idea of enacting climate change-related renewable energy policies is fraught with fears of economic loss and major lifestyle changes. For many liberals, on the other hand, not enacting such policies is fraught with fears of economic loss and major lifestyle changes. It is a tug-of-war that began at the start of the century and continues today.
"Donald Trump is president right now and therefore we're really unlikely to see new Federal laws trying to support climate change legislation or renewable energy policy, or dealing with environmental problems," says Stokes.
Instead, states are taking the lead in pursuing renewable energy policies to maintain progress and deal with potentially damaging environmental effects, such as sea level rise and air quality problems, but levels of support for action vary across the nation, and the challenge will be to avoid triggering knee-jerk reactions that are less about the issue and more about partisanship.
"We try to understand what kinds of messages would work with the public and how that would translate into more states actually doing something about these issues," says Stokes, who, with Christopher Warshaw--now assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at George Washington University--conducted research into how people connect (or not) with the hot-button issues related to climate change, such as renewable energy legislation.
According to their baseline figures, the vast majority of people in the country support renewable energy portfolios in their states, in which a certain amount of the states' electricity comes from a renewable source. The results are what you might expect: states with an abundance of renewable resources (California, Hawaii, New Mexico, and Iowa, for instance) top the list and have actual renewable energy policies in play, while the southern and mountain states tend to have little support and lack renewable energy policies.
"Overall, these findings suggest that state legislators are broadly responsive to public opinion on this issue," Warshaw notes.
However, public opinion does not always cement state legislation. Florida, for instance, not...