The majority of Americans—and 56% of Texans—believe the fossil industry is significantly responsible for the climate crisis, and should be made to foot at least part of the bill, according to a new public opinion survey by Yale University’s Program on Climate Change Communications.
Commissioned by the Union of Concern Scientists, and extrapolating from the responses of 5,000 people nation-wide, the survey “found that 57% of Americans and 56% of Texans believe that oil, gas, and coal companies have either ‘a great deal’ or ‘a moderate’ amount of responsibility for the damages caused by global warming,” the Houston Chronicle reports. “They also said fossil fuel companies should pay for at least a portion of the damages to local communities caused by carbon pollution from burning fossil fuels.”
Victor Flatt, environmental law professor at the University of Houston, said such expressions of public opinion have power. They have potential to influence “a wave of lawsuits by cities and states who are trying to hold companies such as BP, Chevron, Exxon Mobil, Shell, and ConocoPhillips accountable for global warming”. And they push policy-makers—and fossils themselves—to “adopt measures, such as carbon taxes, to address climate change.”
“Most big oil companies support a price on carbon as a way to inoculate themselves against climate litigation,” he explained.
Strikingly, the survey found that “support for fossil fuel companies paying climate damages was highest in some counties near the Permian Basin in West Texas and Eagle Ford shale in South Texas,” the Chronicle notes. Overall suspicion of the industry was also high in the oil-rich state, with 65% of Texans surveyed saying they “distrusted fossil fuel companies”. The survey cited Latinos/Latinas as the ethnocultural group most concerned about global warming.”
While the Independent Petroleum Association of America sought to question the survey’s methodology, other industry response suggested the fossils know they are on the defensive. John Tintera of the Texas Alliance for Energy Producers essentially accepted the findings, responding that the data “serves as an important reminder that the industry needs to continue to reach out to the public to share our story of successfully regulated and safe energy production, and the many benefits of oil and gas production that we all enjoy.”