2024 Rice Kinder Houston Area Survey: Residents of the world’s energy capital believe Houston should lead the energy transition

Photo of White Oak Bayou with Houston skyline in the background.

Nearly nine in 10 area residents believe Houston should lead the world in transitioning to alternative energy sources, according to Rice University’s 43rd annual Kinder Houston Area Survey. More than 80% of Houstonians also said the energy transition was necessary to the city’s economic prosperity.

Photo of White Oak Bayou with Houston skyline in the background.

Findings from the nation’s longest-running metropolitan study of its kind were released today by the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at its annual luncheon at the Hilton Americas-Houston. The survey captures responses from a demographically representative sample of more than 5,300 adults living throughout Harris County, making it the largest sample size in survey history and allowing researchers to analyze results at the neighborhood level for the first time.

The survey also revealed that Houstonians are excited and optimistic about the future but are also concerned about the impacts of climate change and artificial intelligence (AI).

“The survey’s founder Stephen Klineberg called Houston the ‘prophetic city’ because our demographic makeup is already what the rest of the country will look like by 2050,” said Ruth N. López Turley, director of the Kinder Institute. “Thanks to our expanded Greater Houston Community Panel, we have the unique opportunity to ask residents of the city of the future to weigh in on the concerns of the future. Through this research, we hope to better understand and anticipate the local impacts of global issues that are taking shape today.”

America’s energy transition

Houston, widely regarded as the energy capital of the world, should lead the way in the transition to alternative energy, according to 87% of survey respondents. In addition, 81% of area residents believe the transition to alternative energy is necessary for Houston’s economic future.

Three-quarters of respondents also agreed that the top priority for the energy sector in Texas should be expanding and improving technologies for the production of alternative energy sources such as wind, solar and hydrogen.

A positive outlook for the future

The survey revealed that an overwhelming number of Houstonians are widely excited about their futures. Seventy-two percent of participants said they are enthused about new opportunities in the area, while only 28% by comparison said they are worried about being left behind.

Crime and safety, housing and other big issues for Houstonians

Crime and safety was named the overall biggest problem for the second year in a row with 27% of survey respondents flagging this issue. Despite the persistent concerns, Houstonians are much less concerned about crime than they were in the 1990s, when as many as three out of four survey participants said it was the biggest problem.

Another one in five (22%) said affordable housing was the biggest problem facing the region, while 21% of those surveyed named the economy. Traffic and infrastructure concerns were up from last year at 9% and 8%, respectively.

Opinions on the biggest problem varied by specific area. Housing costs were the top concern for outlying areas near Waller County, Katy and Cypress as well as inner loop neighborhoods including the Heights, Lazybrook and Garden Oaks. Meanwhile, in a section of southwest Houston hit hard by flooding in the past, infrastructure was named the city’s biggest problem.

This year’s survey respondents were also asked to consider causes or solutions to some of the most common problems. When asked to name up to three causes of the lack of affordable housing, the top responses were corporations, landlords and neighborhood opposition to affordable housing projects.

Regarding law enforcement and safety, 56% of respondents said they felt law enforcement served their neighborhood as well as any other, 25% felt they were getting better service than others and 19% thought police were serving their neighborhoods less effectively than others. Overall, more than half of respondents said adding more police officers would make them feel safer, but about one in seven residents said more police would actually lead them to feel less safe. This varied by race and ethnicity: Black residents were twice as likely as white residents to say more police would make them feel less safe.

Finally, 46% of survey respondents said they cannot afford a $400 emergency with cash on hand — the highest level recorded in the survey’s history. In addition, 29% of Houstonians reported that their financial situation had worsened in the past few years, and 44% said it was about the same as it was a few years ago.

Views on artificial intelligence

While Houston is considered a major global city and economic power where technology is embraced, survey respondents shared concerns when asked about the impact of AI. More than 50% said they already use AI tools at work, and 60% said AI will result in job losses in Houston in the next five years. Most survey respondents said they felt their own jobs are safe, but 7% of respondents — translating to as many as 174,000 area workers — said they are very worried or extremely worried about their job being eliminated by AI in the next five years.

Climate change

Nearly 60% of survey respondents said they were either worried, very worried or extremely worried about the impact of climate change on the region, while 13% said they are not at all worried. In addition, 84% of residents think it is at least somewhat likely climate change will have a negative impact on their health and well-being in the next 10 years, and 86% believe Houston’s economic prosperity will be negatively impacted. Approximately 70% of survey respondents said local and state officials, federal agencies and large businesses and corporations should be doing more to fight climate change, and 57% said the same of their fellow citizens.

Results were collected from the Greater Houston Community Panel, a cohort of Harris County residents who respond to surveys throughout the year, allowing a longitudinal approach that better tracks how opinions shift with time. As the panel expands its reach, studies can uncover a deeper understanding of the Houston region, said Dan Potter, senior director of research at the Kinder Institute, who led the team of researchers responsible for this year’s report.

“The panel is giving us an unparalleled view into the lives of residents in the most diverse city in the country, in the most diverse area in the country, and we will only keep expanding from here,” Potter said.

The survey is available online at https://kinder.rice.edu/research/kinder-houston-area-survey-2024-results.