Why you should care
Because the numbers show few believe in political solutions, but they’re holding out hope for progress elsewhere.
So often, the public debate on climate change seems to treat the subject as a partisan issue — not a scientific one, and certainly not a corporate one. But on this Earth Day, an exclusive SurveyMonkey and OZY poll seems to suggest more Americans believe that it will be tech leaders, not politicians, who will have the final say on saving the planet. In fact:
More than a third of Americans believe technology, not politicians, will make the biggest difference on slowing or reversing climate change.
To be exact, 35 percent of respondents said technology would help the most, 30 percent said it would take individuals changing behaviors and just 20 percent believed politicians could carry the day. Meanwhile, nearly a tenth of respondents said it was already too late to halt the damage.
From March 13 to the 16th, SurveyMonkey and OZY polled 3,958 adults, selected from the nearly 3 million people who take surveys on the SurveyMonkey platform each day. The modeled error estimate for the full sample is plus or minus 2.5 percentage points. Data have been weighted for age, race, sex, education and geography using census data to reflect America’s demographics. The full results can be found here, and you can see the cross tabulations for results broken down by age, race, gender and political affiliation here.
Interestingly, there was a deep divide along gender: Two-fifths of millennial men — defined in the survey as ages 18 to 34 — pinned tech as the best hope for change, and 40 percent of older men agreed, compared to just 27 percent of millennial women and 32 percent of older women (in both cases, women were more likely to cite individuals changing behaviors as the greatest change-maker).
Regardless, younger Americans expressed a higher level of concern about climate change, which seems “pretty intuitive,” says Erin Pinkus, a research scientist for SurveyMonkey who helped conduct the poll. “They’re more likely to live to see the most negative consequences.”
Skepticism about the ability of politicians to respond to global warming abound, which is why at least one tech representative is not at all shocked to learn that Americans would turn to her industry for help. Why should the public trust politicians to face climate change when many of them “deny it exists at all?” asks Linda Moore, president and CEO of TechNet, a network that lobbies for more than 100 technology companies and executives. But can they be up to the task where politicians can’t?
They’re certainly trying to influence the debate. Earlier this month — as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg testified to lawmakers about the sometimes sketchy actions of his company — Moore’s group was courting Capitol Hill. In meetings with the White House and U.S. House leaders in both parties, they advocated for key issues, including better infrastructure for a cleaner energy grid. Traditionally, tech leaders have preferred to stay mum on divisive issues. But their approach shows the dual role companies can play in helping create a less polluted world.
The umbrella of tech companies often covers not just the producers of clean energy technology but also some of the world’s largest consumers of that energy, including Apple, Microsoft and Visa. In that sense, Silicon Valley and its satellite sites have a greater vested interest in improving climate change conditions than most. “They combine this desire of being good stewards of the planet and doing right by their business by using these clean energy sources,” Moore says.