Support for Climate Policy High in California

Craig Miller

Three-quarters of Californians believe climate change is a serious threat to the state’s economy. And a majority thinks we need to act now to reduce emissions, rather than wait until the economy improves. These are among the findings of a new survey by the Public Policy Institute of California

“Californians really believe that in our state there’s an opportunity to have a better environment and a better economy through addressing climate change,” concludes Mark Baldassare, who directed the survey and says Californians believe — by a two-to-one margin — that climate change policies, like requiring more renewable energy, will create jobs.

The survey also finds overwhelming bipartisan support for requirements mandating more fuel efficient cars (81%), “greener” buildings and appliances (74%), requiring utilities to increase renewable energy sources (82%), and for requiring industry to reduce emissions (82%).

Opinion is sharply divided, however, over how to get those emissions reductions from the largest polluters.

Baldassare says just over half of Californians support cap-and-trade, one of the state’s main strategies for reducing emissions.

“Cap-and-trade is a very confusing policy to most Californians. They are still trying to grasp what it’s all about,” he said.

In effect, California’s initial cap and trade plans limit how much power plants and refineries can pollute as a whole, but allows individual facilities the flexibility to buy and sell emissions credits.  According to the study, slightly more Californians favor a straight carbon tax on emitters, which is not currently part of the state’s plans.

“The notion of a carbon tax, particularly a tax on companies, is easier for people to comprehend, and it’s  something they’ve been more supportive of over time,” said Baldassare.  “As people learn more about how a tax would work, and how cap and trade will work, opinions may shift, but government officials both at state and federal level continue to have a challenge in explaining cap and trade.”

Californians are less divided on the issue of nuclear power.  In the wake of the recent earthquake, tsunami, nuclear-meltdown disaster in Japan, support for new nuclear power plants in the state is down 14% from last year, with less than a third of Californians in favor.

Baldassare said that while support for renewable energy is usually pretty high in the state, favor for nuclear power – and offshore drilling — tends to fluctuate.

“We see a shift that’s possible based on news events and economic events with offshore oil drilling and with nuclear power that are a function of what the daily concerns that people are reading about in newspapers and what are their daily concerns when they go to the gas pump,” he said.

Along those lines, a year after the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, the survey finds support for oil drilling off the California coast up 12 percent from last year, with likely voters split down the middle on the issue.

Other significant findings from the survey:

  • 61% say the effects of global warming have already begun
  • While 58% of Californians say the state government should take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions right away, there’s a split along part lines.  67% of Democrats favor immediate action, while 60% of Republicans say the state should wait until the economy improves.
  • 77% support California’s policy that one-third of the state’s electricity come from renewable sources by 2020, unless it results in higher electricity bills.  In that case, support is just 46%
  • 27% say air pollution is the most important environmental issue facing California today