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University of Michigan and Muhlenberg College Study: Most Americans Support Carbon Tax if Revenue Supports Renewable Energy

While some U.S. are lukewarm on the idea of taxing fossil fuel companies for emitting carbon, more are willing to support a tax if the funds support cleaner energy.

According to the University of Michigan and Muhlenberg College's Spring 2014 National Surveys on Energy and Environment (NSEE), most Americans—56 percent—support a revenue-neutral carbon tax, in which all tax revenue would be returned to the public as a rebate check. However, that amount rises to 60 percent if revenues would be used to fund research and development for renewable energy programs.

The study, authored by professors from Michigan's Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy and Muhlenberg's College of Political Science and its Accounting, Business & Economics department, shows that the carbon tax support spreads across all political parties.

Graphic credit: University of Michigan

The carbon tax coupled with renewable energy research earns majority support across all political categories, including a little more than half of Republicans.

If a carbon tax's revenues were used to reduce the federal budget deficit, only 38 percent of Americans would support it, the study suggests. A tax with unspecified revenue direction would receive the least support, with 34 percent.

The study's authors believe harsh winters, reports like the most recent round from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the work of environmentalists have combined to shift the public's thoughts on climate change.

"Climate change is a highly politicized issue, and we find strong evidence of a partisan divide. Democrats express more support for all the policies in our survey than Republicans do, with Independents generally clustering more closely to Democrats," the report reads. "However, respondents across all parties express considerably more support for a carbon tax when a use of revenue is attached."

The study also followed up with respondents by asking which use of revenue they would prefer for a carbon tax. Renewable energy edged out tax rebate checks.

Graphic credit: University of Michigan

"The cold winters of 2013 and 2014 have eroded the public’s beliefs in the existence of global warming, and the recent political landscape has not favored legislative action on climate change at the federal level," the report concludes. "Nonetheless, several states and many other countries are moving ahead with market-based climate change mitigation policies and recent regulatory steps by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency may reopen this discussion in many states.

"Conventional wisdom holds that a carbon tax, while attractive on economic grounds, is a political non-starter. The survey results reported here suggest that this conclusion may be premature."

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A volcano erupts on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island on Dec. 9, 2019. Michael Schade / Twitter

A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.

"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."

The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.

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At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.

The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.

"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."

The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.