Cheap and Clean
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.
About the Authors
Stephen Ansolabehere is Professor of Government at Harvard University and coauthor of The End of Inequality and other books.
David M. Konisky is Associate Professor in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs and the coeditor of Failed Promises: Evaluating the Federal Government’s Response to Environmental Justice (MIT Press).
“Ansolabehere and Konisky point out that the attitudes of the American public to energy technologies ultimately will determine our energy future. They give the reader a fascinating report: the public’s preferences are based on perceived costs and harms. These choices have been remarkably stable over time and not predictable by the popular variables of gender or party except on the vital issue of climate change. The public seems to be better informed than our political leaders about our energy future.”
—John Deutch, Institute Professor, MIT; former Director of Energy Research, Undersecretary of Energy, U.S. Department of Energy
“If you are concerned about climate change, energy, or the environment, you should read Cheap and Clean. It is the most thought-provoking book on energy I have read in years. Ansolabehere and Konisky are lucid writers, their arguments are persuasive and their message is surprisingly hopeful. Researchers will be challenged by their approach, and policy makers can find considerable wisdom here.”
—Thomas Dietz, Professor and Founding Director, Environmental Science and Policy Program, Michigan State University
“Cheap and Clean is the most important book yet written on how Americans think about energy issues. The authors' Consumer Model of energy and energy policy preferences is a breakthrough in our understanding of how people think about these issues. The book is essential reading for scholars who study public opinion and energy as well as for policy advocates and policy makers in the field.”
—Eric R.A.N. Smith, Professor of Political Science, University of California, Santa Barbara
“Cheap and Clean makes an important contribution to our understanding of public opinion and energy. The authors provide interesting insights into how Americans view energy choice and the role of partisan and demographic differences in explaining attitudes on energy. This book is original, engaging, and highly readable.”
—Robert Duffy, Professor and Chair of the Political Science Department, Colorado State University; coauthor of Integrating Climate, Energy, and Air Pollution Policies
Winner, 2015 Don K. Price Award given by the Science, Technology and Environmental Politics section of the American Political Science Association.