Californians’ Global Warming Fervor Cools

Green Inc. logo The annual survey on Californians and the environment conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California, and with support from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation revealed that the state's residents are interestingly declining in support for action on climate change and also in belief of its seriousness.

Posted July 30, 2009

By Felicity Barringer, Green Inc., NYTimes

Californians’ eagerness to battle global warming seems to be cooling a bit: The latest survey on the state’s environmental attitudes,
released on Wednesday, showed that 47 percent consider the threat of
global warming very serious, a decline of seven percentage points from
two years ago.

CA GW map1 Two-thirds of Californians now support the 2006 Global Warming
Solutions Act, the landmark 2006 legislation requiring the state to
slash its greenhouse gas emissions — down from 78 percent two years ago.

Still, 61 percent of Californians say the effects of global warming
are already occurring, only a slight decline from last year’s 64
percent, and above the 53 percent in the rest of the country, as
measured in a March Gallup poll.

And when it comes to old-fashioned air pollution, just 23 percent of
residents think that’s a big problem, a drop of 11 percentage points
from last year. California is home to two of the most polluted regions
in the country — the Inland Empire east of Los Angeles and the
agricultural Central Valley.

The annual survey on Californians and the environment was conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California, with support from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

Mark Baldassarre, the institute’s president, said that there
continues to be strong support among Californians for climate change
policies, but those policies are debated along increasingly partisan
lines.

The P.P.I.C. poll showed that 86 percent of Democrats favor
regulating greenhouse gas emissions from refineries, power plants, and
motor vehicles, versus 54 percent of Republicans and 79 percent of
independents. Likewise, 57 percent of Democrats favor a cap-and-trade
program to curb emissions, but 55 percent of Republicans oppose it;
independents are almost evenly split.

Stephen H. Schneider, a Stanford professor of environmental biology
and global change, suggested that the slippage could be due to current
economic woes and also to the absence of natural disasters. Without
last year’s big wildfires or Gulf hurricanes of the magnitude of Ivan
in 2004 or Katrina in 2005, “people slip back” into complacency, he
said.

Steven F. Hayward, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute,
a conservative think-tank in Washington, said the cooling off of
California’s attitudes “shows us the limits of how far you can go in
regulating the economy and raising the cost of goods in service of the
environment.”

But Kathryn Phillips of the Environmental Defense Fund’s
Sacramento office takes the longer view. Not many years ago, she said,
“If we heard about 66 percent of Californians being worried about
greenhouse gases, we would have thought we hit the jackpot.”

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