Science

Republicans were fond of wind and solar energy. That romance has cooled.

Support for wind and solar energy among Republicans has dropped significantly since 2020 as older Republicans in particular became soured on renewables, a Republican survey shows. new research from the Pew Research Center.

Still, a clear majority of Americans, 63 percent, want the country to stop adding carbon dioxide from burning oil, gas and coal to the atmosphere by 2050, the study found. That’s the goal scientists say all major economies must reach to prevent the deadliest effects of climate change. To that end, 78 percent want more solar power, while 72 percent want more wind power, the survey found.

But that’s a sign of declining public support for renewable energy, driven by Republicans and Republican-leaning independents. According to Pew, their approval of clean energy began to decline sharply after President Biden took office in 2021.

In the new survey, 64 percent of Republicans said they support more solar farms, down from 84 percent the year Biden was elected. Likewise, 56 percent of Republicans said they support more wind farms, down from 75 percent in 2020. Over the same period, support among Democrats for wind and solar energy remained high and steady.

“This is a significant and significant change,” said Alec Tyson, associate director of research at Pew Research Center. “It’s a new level of polarization in energy that we haven’t seen before.”

Public interest in electric vehicles has also declined, with only 29 percent of Americans saying they will consider an electric car for their next purchase, down from 38 percent in 2023.

The future of clean energy and electric vehicles is at stake in this year’s battle for the White House between former President Donald J. Trump, who dismissed global warming as a “hoax” and wants the country to keep producing record amounts of oil and gas, and President Biden, who wants the country to transition away from the fossil fuels that are driving climate change.

In 2022, President Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act, or IRA, the nation’s most ambitious climate bill, which invests at least $370 billion in the production of electric vehicles, batteries, solar panels and other renewable energy. It also offers rebates to consumers who buy electric vehicles, heat pumps and other clean energy technology. Mr. Biden has also used environmental regulations to limit pollution from tailpipes and smokestacks.

All of that became fodder for Republicans, led by Mr. Trump, and the fossil fuel industry, who have spent the past four years attacking renewables while promoting oil and gas. The American Petroleum Institute, a trade group, is running an eight-figure advertising campaign portraying fossil fuels as essential to the nation’s prosperity. A group of Republican attorneys general have challenged the Biden administration’s environmental regulations in a series of lawsuits.

“It’s on Republican airwaves right now because the IRA is one of Biden’s key achievements,” said Megan Mullin, director of the Luskin Center for Innovation at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Mr. Trump regularly opposes electric vehicles and clean energy. He has falsely claimed that electric vehicles are all made in China and can only run for 15 minutes before needing to be charged. He has falsely said that wind turbines reduce property values ​​by 75 percent, cause cancer and, when placed at sea, kill whales. Solar energy, he has incorrectly said, “would mean that American seniors would have no air conditioning in the summer, no heat in the winter, and no electricity during peak hours.”

The Pew survey shows that the gap between Democrats and Republicans on energy policy has only widened since 2020.

In May 2020, 91 percent of Democrats said developing renewable energy should be a national priority, compared to 65 percent of Republicans.

Four years later, that gap has widened dramatically, almost entirely due to changing views among Republicans. Only 38 percent of Republicans now say renewable energy should be a priority.

At the same time, the share of Republicans who say priority should be given to developing oil, coal and natural gas has grown from 35 percent to 61 percent, the survey found.

“Solar and wind are code for Democrats,” said Mike Murphy, a Republican political consultant and founder of EVRepublicans.org, which works to build support for electric vehicles among Republicans. “We’ve started putting political identities on things that shouldn’t have political identities.”

However, there is a generational divide among Republicans when it comes to renewable energy, the study shows. In a nearly inverse picture, two-thirds of Republicans ages 18 to 29 said the nation should prioritize expanding renewable energy, while 76 percent of Republicans ages 65 and older said the priority should be more oil, coal and natural gas should be.

Nearly all Democrats, regardless of age, prioritized the development of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. The survey found that 64 percent of Democrats support a Biden administration regulation aimed at increasing sales of electric vehicles, while 83 percent of Republicans oppose it.

Mr. Murphy said he believes attitudes toward renewable energy will change once factories made possible by the Inflation Reduction Act are built, jobs are created and electric vehicles become more attractive to buy. But, he said, deemphasizing the environmental benefits of clean energy is a must to win over Republican consumers.

“The environmental factors are a trigger for them,” Murphy said.

Scientists say a global transition to wind, solar and other forms of non-polluting energy is essential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels, which are dangerously warming the planet.

The Pew survey also offers a rare glimpse into public opinion about renewable energy in rural America, finding “less positive views of wind and solar” there than among people living in urban or suburban areas. Only about a quarter of rural residents said they believe local solar development would help their local economy, and just 35 percent thought it would lower the price of electricity.

About 40 percent of city residents thought such a project would be economically beneficial, and 51 percent thought it would lower electricity prices.

Rural residents are also more likely than city dwellers to believe that a clean energy project such as a solar farm would make the local landscape “ugly.”

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