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California Survey of Environmental TOP ISSUES

Californians are concerned! 2007 environmental issues survey shows greatest concern about air quality, followed by energy and health.

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Environmental Perceptions, Attitudes and Policy Preferences

78% of Californians support A.B. 32, which requires California to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions back to 1990 levels by 2020. A survey of Californians by The Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) in collaboration with the William and flora Hewlett Foundation published July 2007 examined environmental perceptions, attitudes, and policy preferences.

Top Environmental Issues

In the overall survey, the following issues were researched:

  • Global warming and energy, including identification of the state’s most important environmental issue; perceptions of global warming and its effects on California’s future; support for state policies to address global warming and greenhouse gas emissions; and opinions about the U.S. energy supply, about allowing more offshore oil drilling, and about funding the development of alternative energy sources, including new nuclear power plants.
  • Air quality and health issues, including perceptions of air pollution and of trends in air quality in a respondent’s region; the perceived threat of air pollution to personal health; beliefs about the causes of air pollution and government responsibility for setting air quality standards; opinions about the composition and performance of regional air districts; actions people are willing to take to improve air quality; and specific findings for residents of the San Joaquin Valley.
  • Environmental politics and preferences, including overall ratings of the governor and president and of their handling of environment issues; preferences for federal and state involvement in environmental protection; the importance of environmental issues such as air quality, global warming, and energy policy in the 2008 presidential election; automobile driving trends, willingness to purchase more fuel-efficient cars, and the effects of increased gasoline prices.
  • Variations in perceptions, attitudes, and policy preferences across the five major regions of the state (Central Valley, San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles County, Orange/San Diego counties, and Inland Empire), among Asians, blacks, Latinos, and non-Hispanic whites, and across age, education, income, and political groups, and among San Joaquin Valley population subgroups.

Role of Government in Environmental Protection

Today, about half (49%) of all Californians say the state government is not doing enough to protect the environment – the highest share of residents to hold this view in recent years of the PPIC Statewide Survey (46% in 2006, 42% in 2004, 46% in 2003). A similar percentage of likely voters (48%) shares this perception today.

"Considering all the attention state leaders are paying to environmental issues and the unprecedented protections they have enacted, it’s amazing how little credit – and slack – Californians are giving them," says Mark Baldassare, president and CEO of PPIC. "Green expectations are staying way ahead of government ability to deliver."

If the state government is on the hot seat over the environment, the federal government is being scorched. Two-thirds (67%) of Californians say the federal government is not doing enough to protect the nation’s environment – a perception that has risen appreciably over time (52% in 2003, 56% in 2004, 61% in 2006).

The '08 Election : ENVIRONMENT

Given the critical mood, candidates running for their party’s presidential nomination may want to give environmental issues a second – and third – look. A majority of the state’s likely voters (54%) say that candidates’ positions on the environment will be very important in determining how they cast their vote; another 29 percent say these views will be somewhat important, while only 16 percent say they will not be too important. Voter interest in the environment has increased significantly from before the 2004 presidential elections: Fewer than four in 10 likely voters called environmental positions very important in July 2004 (37%) or July 2003 (39%).

Healthy Air?

Californians’ dissatisfaction with government action reflects their continuing – and in some cases rising – environmental anxieties. For the seventh year of PPIC surveys on the environment, residents name air pollution as the state’s most important environmental problem (29%). That concern holds across political parties, all regions of the state, and all racial and ethnic groups. Most residents describe air pollution in their own region of the state as either a big problem (35%) or somewhat of a problem (37%).

Less than a quarter (20%) say their regional air quality has improved over the past 10 years, while about half (48%) say it has grown worse. However, there are major regional differences in these air quality perceptions, with Central Valley, Inland Empire, and Los Angeles area residents generally far more critical. Even more disturbing is that 25 percent of residents now say air pollution poses a very serious health threat to themselves and their families, up from 18 percent in 2003. Again, there are sharp regional differences, with residents of the Inland Empire (34%), the Los Angeles area (32%), and the Central Valley (30%) far more likely than residents of the San Francisco Bay Area or Orange/San Diego Counties (19% each) to believe air pollution is a serious threat.

Global Warming and Drought Worries Escalate

Although air pollution continues to top the list of environmental problems, residents are becoming much more aware of global warming. Today, 11 percent identify global warming as the biggest environmental problem facing the state – a 3-point increase over last year (8%) and a substantial jump since 2002 and 2000 when fewer than 1 percent mentioned global warming. Even more striking, for the first time a majority of Californians (54%) say that global warming poses a very serious threat to the state’s future economy and quality of life. This marks a 5-point increase since last July and a 15-point increase since July 2005.

Californians’ sense of urgency reflects a belief that the effects of global warming are already being felt – two-thirds of residents (66%) hold this view, up 3 points from last July and 9 points from July 2005. And 81 percent believe steps should be taken right away to counter these effects. Only 1 in 6 think immediate action is not necessary. Moreover, the urgency crosses party lines. There may be significant partisan differences on other questions related to global warming, but when it comes to counteracting the effects of global warming, majorities of Democrats (92%), independents (82%), and Republicans (60%) say something should be done right away.

What effect of global warming worries Californians the most? "More Californians are associating global warming with a greater variety of environmental threats," says Baldassare. "It’s not just air pollution – concern over increased droughts and flooding is becoming more evident in Californians’ thinking on the issue." In fact, the greatest number of residents (60%) are now very concerned about severe droughts. This is a 19-point surge in concern over droughts since July 2005 and includes majorities in every region of the state. A potentially related finding is that the share of residents who say the state’s diminishing water supply is California’s most important environmental problem has doubled from 4 percent last July to 8 percent today.

AB 32, Emissions Laws and Ready for Regulation?

Despite their underwhelming response to government efforts, Californians overwhelmingly support recent laws the state has passed to lower auto emissions. AB 32, the law requiring California to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions back to 1990 levels by 2020, is an ingredient in the political controversy over environmental policy in Sacramento at the moment, but it gets enthusiastic support from 3 in 4 residents (78%) and likely voters (76%). That’s a significant jump since last July when 2 in 3 residents (65%) and likely voters (66%) favored the legislation, which was then in the proposal stage. Support for the law includes strong majorities across political parties.

Residents (84%) and likely voters (81%) are even more supportive of a 2002 law that requires automakers to reduce emissions from new cars in California, starting in 2009. Backing for the law has been extremely high every time this question has been asked in the past five years but is currently at its highest point among all residents. Once again, support is high across partisan lines (Democrats 92%, independents 84%, and Republicans 71%). An executive order Governor Schwarzenegger issued in January to reduce the carbon intensity of the state’s transportation fuels is also solidly favored by residents and likely voters (77% each).

Honing in on air pollution specifically, Californians are also largely willing to toughen pollution standards on many activities, even if it costs more. For example, a strong majority (68%) would be willing to see tougher air pollution standards on commercial and industrial activities even if it cost these businesses more to operate. An equal share (68%) would support tougher standards on the ships, trucks, and trains that transport goods in California, despite increased costs. When it comes to support for toughening air pollution standards on agriculture and farm activities, half of Californians (50%) favor the idea even if it costs more, 34 percent don’t favor it in any case, 5 percent favor it but not if it increases costs, and 11 percent don’t know.

Who's In Charge of the Air?

Given residents’ concern over air pollution, which level of government do they want to set and enforce air quality standards? State government gets the biggest nod from both residents (37%) and likely voters (42%). Federal and local governments trail significantly. Regional air districts – which are responsible for stationary sources of air pollution – are the choice of very few residents (16%) and likely voters (18%).

Moreover, the share of residents who say regional districts should set air quality standards in their region has dropped 10 points since 2003. Baldassare notes, "We find that 7 in 10 residents do not know enough about their regional air district to rate their handling of air quality, yet when told these boards are typically composed of local elected officials, 8 in 10 favor the idea of including professionals with knowledge of health and environmental issues."

The Environmental Challenge of the San Joaquin Valley

In this survey, additional interviews were conducted to provide an in-depth analysis of attitudes in the eight-county San Joaquin Valley – home to some of the worst air pollution in the nation. Compared to residents in the rest of the state, far more San Joaquin Valley residents say air pollution is a big problem in their region (35% to 56%, respectively). Thirty percent of people in the San Joaquin Valley say they are very dissatisfied with air quality in their regions, compared to 14 percent of all Californians. But perhaps most troubling, significantly more San Joaquin Valley residents (35%) than residents statewide (25%) identify air pollution as a very serious health threat to them and their families.

More Key Findings about Top Environmental Issues

  • Better fuel efficiency or more oil drilling? No contest To reduce dependency on foreign oil, residents are decidedly in favor of requiring automakers to improve fuel efficiency on cars (75%), but not of allowing more oil drilling off California’s coast (52% oppose, 41% favor).
  • Renewable energy, yes; nuclear power, probably not Californians (84%) heartily support spending more government money to develop solar, geothermal, and wind power. Far fewer (37%) support the idea of building more nuclear power plants; however, likely voters are closely divided on the issue (44% favor, 47% oppose).
  • A solitary commute The number of Californians who drive alone to work (66%) dwarfs the number who carpool (13%) or take public transit (7%). Among likely voters, the drive-alone share jumps even higher (72%).
  • Pain at the pump pressuring preferences? Two-thirds of residents (65%) say gas prices have caused them financial hardship – and 69 percent say they would now seriously consider buying a more fuel-efficient car… even if it cost more.


Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC)
A private, non profit organization dedicated to independent, nonpartisan research on California's economic, social, and political issues.

PDF of California Environment Survey 2007

Edited by Carolyn Allen
| environment | sustainability | Social Responsibility | green marketing | air quality | compliance | governance |


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