Somebody on Gristmill recently mentioned this study, I think. (Who are you, mysterious misremembered person? [‘Twas JMG!]) Anyway, it was a survey done with 1,200 or so adults. They were presented with three climate policy options:

1) “Standards” or “mandates”: The government tells companies exactly how they must generate electricity or manufacture vehicle fuel to achieve a cut in emissions.

2) Emissions Tax: The government taxes companies for their greenhouse gas emissions.

3) Cap-and-Trade: The government imposes a cap on companies’ greenhouse gas emissions, but allows companies to trade permits – which represent the right to emit a certain amount of pollution.

The results are … disheartening. The overwhelming response was: do whatever you want to those electricity companies, but don’t mess with our cars!

The study also found a surprising congeniality toward the dread “command and control” regulations:

Americans prefer standards, in which companies are told exactly what to do to curb emissions, over the other policies we investigated. A low-carbon standard for electricity generation was backed by 73 percent of respondents who were told it would cause a typical monthly bill to rise by $10. By contrast, a cap-and-trade scheme for power companies was backed by only 47 percent at this price point. This gives pause for thought, as cap-and-trade schemes feature in some bills currently being considered by the US Congress.

The one thing you’re never supposed to say about stuff like this is: Why the hell would we expect average American adults to know the first thing about effective climate policy? Where, in our vapid entertainment culture and personality-based TV news, would they learn about these things, much less obtain the tools by which to compare and analyze them?

The whole exercise strikes me as meaningless. It just discovers what everyone already knows: Americans will support any government policy that sounds vaguely good as long as they don’t have to (visibly) pay for it.