In award-winning book, Indiana University researcher examines how Americans view energy issues

  • Sept. 3, 2015


BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Scientists and policy-makers should re-think how they talk to Americans about climate change, according to an Indiana University researcher who co-authored a book that has earned a prestigious award.

David Konisky and co-author Steve Ansolabehere surveyed Americans who said they are more concerned with local air and water pollution and toxic waste than they are with global climate change. That is one of the major findings in "Cheap and Clean: How Americans Think About Energy in the Age of Global Warming" (MIT Press, 2014).

Konisky is an associate professor at IU’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs, and Ansolabehere is a professor of government at Harvard University. “Cheap and Clean” was recently honored by the American Political Science Association with the Don K. Price Award, which recognizes the best book on science, technology and environmental politics published in the past year.

Based on the survey results, Konisky and Ansolabehere conclude Americans want:

  • An emphasis on wind, solar and natural gas and reduced use of coal, oil and nuclear power. We want energy to be less harmful to the environment and less expensive. We are more concerned with the attributes of an energy source rather than picking a winner in, for example, a “coal vs. wind” debate.
  • A greater concern with harm than costs. If we’re asked to make a trade-off, we’re willing to pay more if it means cleaner energy. Policy-makers have assumed we won’t accept higher costs for cleaner fuels, but that assumption is wrong.
  • More focus on policies that address local problems rather than global impacts through carbon taxes and cap-and-trade regimes. The local focus is one of the reasons a majority of Americans support policies such as the new EPA regulations of greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, Konisky said. Those policies are seen as reducing air and water pollution locally.

“Advocates must do a better job of focusing on people’s real concerns,” Konisky said. “The U.S. can help the world move toward a cleaner energy economy, but the strategy should focus on the local impacts from energy use instead of seeing it as global-size issue.”

About the award: The American Political Science Association’s Don K. Price Award originated in 1994 and honors the memory of author and academic Don K. Price, dean of the John F. Kennedy School of Government from 1958 to 1977.

About David Konisky: Konisky is an associate professor at SPEA. He formerly served on the faculties at the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University and at the Harry S. Truman School of Public Affairs at the University of Missouri. Konisky’s research focuses on American politics and public policy, with particular emphasis on regulation, environmental politics and policy, state politics, and public opinion.

About SPEA: Founded in 1972, SPEA is a world leader in public and environmental affairs and the largest school of public administration and public policy in the United States, boasting an alumni network of more than 32,000. In the 2012 "Best Graduate Schools" by U.S. News and World Report, SPEA ranked second and had the nation's highest-ranked professional graduate program in public affairs at a public institution. Four of its specialty programs are ranked in the top-five listings.

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