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The American Climate Consensus

A recent experiment in citizen deliberation shows that Americans from across the political spectrum will tend to align on basic questions about climate change and what to do about it when given the same set of facts. What is needed now is for policymakers to claim this common ground and build on it.

BERKELEY – In September, an initiative by several influential civic and non-profit organizations made a remarkable discovery: When properly informed about climate change, Americans across the political spectrum agree that it is an urgent threat caused by human activity. There is broad-based demand for a public-private approach combining federal targets, tailored state-level strategies, and investment and innovation from the private sector. Americans want the transition to a low-carbon economy to be managed equitably. They want climate policies that protect low-income households and the communities that will be hardest hit, while ensuring that US competitiveness is not jeopardized.

These findings come from America in One Room: Climate and Energy, an experimental deliberative exercise that brought together a representative sample of 962 Americans in order to answer a crucial question: “What would the American public really think about our climate and energy challenges if it had the chance to deliberate about them in depth, with good and balanced information?”

The process was organized by Helena (in partnership with several other groups), and supervised by Stanford University’s Center for Deliberative Democracy and NORC (the National Opinion Research Center) at the University of Chicago. Respondents deliberated online, working through an extensive questionnaire posing 72 substantive questions about climate and energy. They then received a briefing document, broke up into 104 moderated smaller groups to discuss the issues, and finally retook the original questionnaire to measure changes in knowledge and opinions. A separate control group of 671 citizens answered the same questionnaires but did not participate in the deliberations.

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