Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Warming Wednesdays: Californians like our climate policies

By the (low) standards of the United States, the state of California has enacted pretty good policies to try to mitigate climate change. By law, one third of our electricity is supposed to come from renewable sources by 2020 -- and by the same year, we are supposed to get our greenhouse gas emissions down to 1990 levels.

A recent Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) survey shows we like the idea that California is doing something about climate change. As the Los Angeles Times graphic shows, we even want, across the political spectrum, to spend money on getting more renewables into the system.

One of the premises of much liberal politics is that, if we can just push reality-based policies through the many choke points in our political system, people will end up accepting their necessity and ever rather liking them. The PPIC findings on California's energy policy seem to bear that out. We've long fought air pollution and smog here.

As the Obama administration prepares to announce new fuel-efficiency standards for the U.S. auto industry, there is much more agreement among Californians on this aspect of U.S. energy policy: state residents overwhelmingly (84%) favor requiring automakers to improve fuel efficiency significantly, as do majorities across parties (90% Democrats, 81% independents, 76% Republicans).

When Californians see this year's array of extreme weather events -- floods, fires, heat waves -- they see climate change in progress.

The effects of global warming have already begun in the view of 61 percent of adults. This is an increase of 7 points since last July (54%) but similar to previous years (61% in 2009, 64% in 2008, 66% in 2007, and 63% in 2006). Another 22 percent say the impact of global warming will occur sometime in the future... Twelve percent say it will never occur.

Across parties, Democrats (69%) and independents (62%) are far more likely than Republicans (40%) to say the effects of global warming have already begun. The view that the effects of global warming have begun is up 10 points among Republicans, up 7 points among independents, and similar to last year among Democrats.

Most adults (58%) say California should act now to reduce emissions, while 38 percent prefer to wait until the economy and job situation improve. How do Californians think action to reduce global warming would affect employment? Nearly half (47%) say state action would result in more jobs and 23 percent say it would result in fewer, while 20 percent foresee no change in employment.

Interestingly, there is a racial difference in the importance accorded to effects of global warming.

Californians are more concerned about increased severity of wildfires (56%), air pollution (48%), and droughts (45%) than about increased flooding (28%). Blacks and Latinos are more likely than Asians and whites to say they are very concerned about each possibility. Less than half of whites are very concerned about any of these potential effects.

This mirrors divides throughout the national political picture: communities without wealth turn to government to soften the blows of systemic catastrophe while the more affluent think they can take care of themselves. The changing racial demographics of the population are likely to lead to shifts in government policy in the climate change arena as in so many others -- especially as Latinos increase their numbers and clout.

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