The Pew Research Center in early December surveyed 1,502 Americans on a wide range of issues, one being their views on the worth of environmental rules. In the wake of the election of Donald Trump, who promises to be a severely disastrous president for the environment, 59 percent of respondents told pollsters that stricter laws and regulations are worth their cost against only 34 percent who said these rules cost too many jobs and hurt the economy. As you would expect, there were sharp partisan differences. Additionally, younger people and more highly educated people lined up on the side of the costs being worth it. The older or less educated, the more likely a respondent was to say the costs are too high.
Kristen Bialik reports:
Nearly eight-in-ten Democrats and Democratic leaners (78%), including large majorities of both liberal (82%) and conservative and moderate Democrats (74%), say environmental laws are worth the cost.
Among Republicans, however, there are striking ideological differences. Overall, 58% of Republicans say stricter environmental regulations cost too many jobs and hurt the economy, while 35% say they are worth the cost. But by a roughly two-to-one margin (65% vs. 29%) conservative Republicans and leaners are more likely to say stricter environmental laws and regulations cost too many jobs and hurt the economy rather than that they are worth the cost. Moderate and liberal Republicans are more divided on this issue: 46% think environmental regulations cost too many jobs and hurt the economy, 47% say they are worth the cost.
The trouble with this poll, as with most others, is that too many Americans are poorly informed about jobs being created and economic gains being made because of environmental regulations. Extracting and burning coal poisons to death thousands of people each year, disables others and lays waste to the land and water, while ever advancing mining technology and techniques take their jobs.
At the same time, too few politicians—including ones who promise coal jobs will come back—give a hoot about miners or we’d have long since had laws and programs assisting those miners and other workers in coal-related fields get prepared for new jobs and then making sure they actually get them. Environmental laws aren’t luxuries. Saving endangered species isn’t a silly invention of New Agers. Stopping industries from forcing toxic waste products into people’s bloodstreams isn’t an unfair stifling of business enterprise. But providing nets, parachutes and ladders for the workers affected by these eco-laws is essential too.
Corporate propaganda plus a policy failure to provide bridges for workers displaced by the laws has gone a long way toward creating the 34 percent in the poll who say eco-laws cost too much. As we know too well, some portion of that 34 percent is made up of hopelessly stubborn people who will never change their minds. To them, environmental restrictions is inherently bad, climate change remains a hoax, green-minded Americans are actually reds, and national parks should be turned over to private corporations.
But, some portion of that third of Americans opposing these laws is persuadable. One way to change their minds—indeed, the approach we should be taking regardless of how much it persuades—is to adopt environmental policies that include both regulations and programs to ease the impact on workers of the changes mandated by those regulations.