Two-thirds of voters support taking $500bn in climate damages from Big Oil, poll finds

A total of 77 per cent of likely voters say fossil fuel companies should take ‘a lot’ or ‘some’ responsibility in addressing the climate crisis

Louise Boyle
Senior Climate Correspondent, New York
Wednesday 18 August 2021 13:23
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Movement to make big polluters pay for their pollution

New polling has revealed that nearly two-thirds of voters would support legislation to take $500bn from fossil fuel corporations to pay damages for their role in causing the climate crisis – currently playing out in deadly wildfires, heatwaves, and more frequent and intense storms.

A national survey of 1,169 likely voters found that 65 per cent support the idea of a “Polluters Pay Climate Fund”, which was introduced last month by Democratic lawmakers.

The bill proposes creating a fund of $500bn over ten years to be funneled into helping communities adapt to climate impacts, research renewable energy and advance environmental justice.

It would see large fossil fuel companies like ExxonMobil, BP, Shell, and Chevron, and other major polluters, pay annually in the region of $5-$6bn, in line with their historic carbon emissions.

Some 32 per cent of likely voters would “strongly support” a bill for such legislation, and 33 per cent were “somewhat” supportive, the survey found.

By party affiliation, it broke down to 83 per cent of Democratic voters, 65 per cent of Independents, and 43 per cent of Republicans.

A total of 43 per cent said fossil fuel companies should take “a lot” of responsibility to address climate crisis. A further 34 per cent of voters said they should have some responsibility.

The poll also asked whether low-income communities and communities of color – who have historically born the brunt of environmental pollution – should be compensated by the fossil fuel industry so they can create more healthy and sustainable communities.

Some 61 per cent of respondents responded that it was either very important or somewhat important.

The survey, conducted by progressive think-tank Data for Progress and coalition Make Polluters Pay, took place from 16 to 19 July and was weighted for demographic representation.

“Every year climate polluters kill hundreds of thousands of people in the United States and over nine million people worldwide. Polluters must pay for all the pain and suffering they cause our communities,” Kaniela Ing, climate justice campaign director with People’s Action, told The Independent in a statement.

Every Democrat, Republican, and Independent learned at some point that ‘if you make a mess, you clean it up.’ This idea is neither controversial nor partisan. It deserves widespread support among members of Congress, especially as members obsess over finding more ‘pay-fors’ to fund the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework and the American Jobs Plan.”

The “Make Polluters Pay” bill was announced by Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, and supported by progressive lawmakers like Independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Senators Edward J Markey and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island.

“At a time of unprecedented heatwaves, drought, flooding, extreme weather disturbances and the acidification of the oceans, now is the time for Congress to make certain that the planet we leave our children and future generations is healthy and habitable,” Senator Sanders said in a statement.

“For decades, the fossil fuel industry knowingly destroyed our planet to pad their short-term profits. We must stand up to the greed of the fossil fuel industry, make fossil fuel corporations pay for the irreparable damage they have done to our communities and our planet, transform our energy system and lead the world in combating climate change. That is exactly what this legislation will do.”

The draft bill directs the US Treasury Department and the Environmental Protection Agency to assess fees based on the emissions that companies have emitted over the last two decades.

A 2019 peer-reviewed study by the Union of Concerned Scientists found that since the Industrial Revolution, emissions from 88 of the largest fossil fuel producers’ and cement manufacturers’ products contributed about 52 per cent of global temperature rise.

In an authoritative report last week from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), scientists said that the climate crisis is widespread, rapid and intensifying – and no region on Earth will escape the changes that are taking place across whole climate systems.

It is also “unequivocal” that human influence, largely from the burning of fossil fuels, is heating the atmosphere, ocean and land, the report found.

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