Conflicted Californians Give Mixed Message about the Environment

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Public Policy Institute of California’s newest statewide poll (pdf) brings to mind the parable about blind men and the elephant; the profile of environmental commitment by Californians depends on what part of the survey is examined.

On one hand, 76% of those polled favor requiring that one-third of the state’s electricity come from renewable energy sources. On the other hand, only 30% see the wisdom of the move if it raises their electricity bill.

Only 36% favor the use of oil and gas hydraulic fracturing (fracking)―blamed by some for contaminated groundwater, earthquakes, sinkholes and other environmental devastation―but 53% are in favor of the Keystone XL pipeline that will transport the Earth’s dirtiest oil across the continent from Canada, threatening sensitive ecosystems on its way to suspect refining processes in the Gulf.

Sixty-two percent of adult Californians believe that global warming has already started, but only 40% are “very concerned” about it. Although they aren’t overly concerned with global warming in general, 64% are “very concerned” that it will cause more severe droughts. Their fear of drought is twice as deep as the fear that global warming will raise sea levels. Some projections have global warming raising those levels 10 feet within 100 years.

Despite being “very concerned” about the effect of global warming on drought, more people (51%-38%) attribute the current drought to natural weather patterns.

When lawmakers passed AB 32, the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, the state committed to an innovative system of lowering greenhouse gases worldwide with a cap-and-trade market-style program rather than a straight carbon tax on polluters. Californians don’t know “a lot” about either one. Only 13% know “a lot” about cap-and-trade and 32% know “a little,” while 16% know “a lot” about carbon taxes and 36% know “a little.”

When cap-and-trade is explained to them, 51% of those polled said they favored it, seven percentage points less than those who liked a carbon tax.

Fifty-one percent oppose more oil drilling off the coast, 64% don’t want to build any more nuclear power plants and 78% want to increase “federal funding to develop wind, solar and hydrogent technology.”

Eighty-five percent of adults said they would require automakers to significantly improve the fuel efficiency of cars. And 75% said they favor local water districts imposing mandatory restrictions on users. Unfortunately, the pollster didn’t ask whether they wanted to pay for either policy.

One thing Californians can agree on is that elected officials are doing a lousy job on the environment. President Barack Obama and Governor Jerry Brown each received 47% approval. But only 38% gave their representatives in Sacramento a thumbs up, which matches their overall low job approval. And approval of Congress was a miserable 24%.

Obviously, lawmakers are not listening to their constituents.

 –Ken Broder


To Learn More:

75 Percent of Californians Support Local Mandatory Water-Use Restrictions (by Jessica Calefati, Bay Area News Group)

Californians Support Global Warming Rules―Unless Gas Prices Rise (by Dan Smith, Sacramento Bee)

For Californians, Higher Costs Dampen Support For Clean Energy (by Jennifer Chaussee, Reuters)

Californians & the Environment (Public Policy Institute of California) (pdf)

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