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Cheap and Clean

Cheap and Clean: How Americans Think about Energy in the Age of Global Warming

Stephen Ansolabehere
David M. Konisky
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Cheap and Clean
    Book Description:

    How do Americans think about energy? Is the debate over fossil fuels highly partisan and ideological? Does public opinion about fossil fuels and alternative energies divide along the fault between red states and blue states? And how much do concerns about climate change weigh on their opinions? In Cheap and Clean, Stephen Ansolabehere and David Konisky show that Americans are more pragmatic than ideological in their opinions about energy alternatives, more unified than divided about their main concerns, and more local than global in their approach to energy. Drawing on extensive surveys they designed and conducted over the course of a decade (in conjunction with MIT's Energy Initiative), Ansolabehere and Konisky report that beliefs about the costs and environmental harms associated with particular fuels drive public opinions about energy. People approach energy choices as consumers, and what is most important to them is simply that energy be cheap and clean. Most of us want energy at low economic cost and with little social cost (that is, minimal health risk from pollution). The authors also find that although environmental concerns weigh heavily in people's energy preferences, these concerns are local and not global. Worries about global warming are less pressing to most than worries about their own city's smog and toxic waste. With this in mind, Ansolabehere and Konisky argue for policies that target both local pollutants and carbon emissions (the main source of global warming). The local and immediate nature of people's energy concerns can be the starting point for a new approach to energy and climate change policy.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-32106-8
    Subjects: Physics, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. 1 The Energy Challenge
    (pp. 1-16)

    Energy is back. After three decades of tepid public interest and scant government attention, energy is once again squarely on the national political agenda. Washington, D.C., has seen a storm of activity on this topic in recent years, after relative silence since Jimmy Carter inhabited the White House. In 2005, George W. Bush signed a new law that provided a series of tax incentives and loan guarantees to encourage energy development of all types of sources. Two years later, President Bush signed additional legislation, requiring increased use of ethanol as a fuel additive and strengthening automobile fuel efficiency standards for...

  5. 2 Energy Choices
    (pp. 17-40)

    Americans want cheap, reliable, clean energy—that seems to go without saying. But, that statement alone speaks volumes about America’s energy choice. We consume electricity, transportation, and heat, not coal, nuclear, or solar power. And we want energy delivered with certain attributes—namely, energy that is inexpensive, dependable, and safe. To the typical American, even to most U.S. companies, the energy choice is not really about the fuel used. Unless they are employed or invested in a given energy sector, consumers and firms care about whether the lights and computers turn on and stay on, how much their power and...

  6. 3 What People Want
    (pp. 41-68)

    Texas is not known for tree hugging. That made it all the more surprising when, after a multiyear planning process, eight of the state’s largest utilities chose to commit to develop the next 1,000 megawatts of electricity generation using wind. More unusual still was the process by which they came to that decision.

    In the summer of 1996, Central Power and Light, West Texas Utilities, Southwest Electric Power Company, El Paso Electric, Entergy Gulf States, Houston Lighting and Power, Texas Utilities, and Southwestern Public Service banded together to conduct a series of “town hall” meetings with customers. The objective of...

  7. 4 Price and Consequence
    (pp. 69-96)

    Coal, oil, natural gas, nuclear, hydro, wind, solar—those are the alternatives. But that is not really what people want. People want to light and heat their homes, operate computers, televisions, and other appliances, and drive their cars without paying too much. Firms want reliable energy that is not subject to disruptions and will not eat into their profits. People also want to avoid the health effects and safety risks that come with the pollution from some forms of energy. Pollution can be visible and tangible. Residents of Los Angeles closely watch the smog index, especially in late summer, and...

  8. 5 Why Do People Hate Coal and Love Solar?
    (pp. 97-124)

    Americans’ affinity for solar and wind power and their aversion to coal, oil, and nuclear power is puzzling. Solar and wind, at a very large scale, have yet to be realized or shown to be feasible, while coal, oil, and nuclear are staples of our energy system. Perhaps people simply love what they cannot have, and grow weary of the familiar. Even in terms of social and economic costs, the framework laid out in chapter 2, the choice is either a wash or a slight advantage to traditional fuels. Coal and oil are far superior in terms of economics to...

  9. 6 The Chicken and the Egg
    (pp. 125-152)

    Perhaps we have things backward. Our account, so far, assumes an order to the way people think about energy. First, they think about the features of the energy sources, especially prices and local pollution, and then they decide whether they want to use more or less of a given fuel based on these characteristics. If a person believes, say, natural gas to be cheaper or cleaner than other fuels, they will want to use more of it than other fuels. Similarly, if people think that nuclear power is more environmentally harmful than other fuels, they will want to use less...

  10. 7 Two Minds about Climate Change
    (pp. 153-170)

    It has been four decades since fears about deteriorating environmental quality led to a sufficient groundswell of political support to change the nation’s approach to environmental problems. The issues then were air and water pollution, pesticides and toxics, and threats to endangered species. The effects were obvious—rivers catching fire in Ohio, terrible smog problems in many major cities, widespread use of chemicals such as DDT, and declining populations of American biological icons such as the bald eagle and the California condor. The public was sufficiently energized that an estimated twenty million people participated in some way in the first...

  11. 8 What to Do?
    (pp. 171-196)

    In 2006, the California State Assembly passed the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, affectionately known as AB (Assembly Bill) 32. It was the most aggressive piece of climate legislation ever adopted by an American legislature. The law, authored by Assembly member Fran Pavley and Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, authorized the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to develop and impose regulations to reduce California’s greenhouse gas emissions to their 1990 levels by 2020. By 2009 CARB had adopted a series of new rules to achieve a 25 percent reduction in greenhouse gases, including an economy-wide cap on emissions and a...

  12. 9 A Way Forward
    (pp. 197-212)

    We are at the beginning. It is the beginning of a decades-long transformation of America’s energy system. It is the beginning of a century-defining struggle with climate change. America will lead the way. We have no choice, as the world’s largest economy, one of the world’s largest producers of oil, natural gas, and coal, and the second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases. The push is on to make our energy system cleaner without destroying our economy or making energy prohibitively expensive for large segments of the population.

    The question is, how do we get there? That is not clear, but the...

  13. Appendix
    (pp. 213-228)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 229-246)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 247-256)
  16. Index
    (pp. 257-262)