Californians have generally led the nation in support for climate action. (Photo: Craig Miller)
Californians have generally led the nation in support for climate action. (Photo: Craig Miller)

Californians have long been ahead of the pack in their support of climate policies, but in new polling, a “record-high majority” of California voters support immediate action by state and federal governments to arrest global warming and prepare for climate impacts.

According to the poll by the Public Policy Institute of California, most respondents (63 percent) believe those impacts are already being felt, and three-in-four (75 percent) support taking “steps to counter the effects of global warming right away.” PPIC analysts say that represents a spike of nine percentage points since its 2012 survey. About the same proportion consider the threat of global warming to be at least “somewhat serious.” Support for immediate climate action continues to track significantly higher among Democrats than Republicans, though the gap may be narrowing.

Partisan differences over goverment climate action may be narrowing somewhat. (Graph: PPIC)
Partisan differences over government climate action may be narrowing somewhat but support among independent voters has tapered off. (Graph: PPIC Statewide Survey, July, 2013)

California already has some of the nation’s most aggressive climate policies, with the legislated goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, and a mandate that utilities draw one-third of their electrical power from renewable sources by the same year.

Though the rest of the nation has generally lagged behind California in its enthusiasm for climate action, most results from the PPIC poll would appear to reflect a general gathering of momentum toward policies to cope with climate change. President Obama, who had gone silent on climate for most of his first term, has vowed to sidestep Congress if that’s what it takes to tackle the climate problem. And this week, the new head of the Environmental Protection Agency kicked off a road show to stump for climate action, by saying that carbon-cutting policies will gun the nation’s economic engine, rather than stall it. Surprisingly, in the PPIC poll, less than half of Californians appear to agree (see “Economy,” below).

Among the perceived threats from climate change, some loom larger than others in the minds of Californians. According to the PPIC survey, 57 percent are “very concerned” about more voracious wildfires, and 78 percent are at least “somewhat concerned” that droughts will become more severe. There seemed to be more confusion over a changing climate’s effects on flooding and storms, where responses were more evenly distributed from “very concerned” to “not at all.”

While the poll shows support for California’s drive toward more renewable energy, that support drops from nearly 8-in-10, to about one-in-three (35 percent) if it would mean higher electric bills.

Some potential eyebrow-raisers:

Air pollution: Despite the Central Valley’s reputation for wretched air quality, much higher proportions of residents of Los Angeles and the Inland Empire describe air pollution as a big problem, 40 and 44 percent, respectively, versus 31 percent of Valley respondents.

Transit: Most (67 percent) still drive to work solo — but about half of Californians claim that they’re ready to look seriously at a hybrid or all-electric car. Latinos and Asians are most likely to lean this way.

Economy: Despite all of the hype about “clean tech” in California, fewer than half the respondents (45 percent) agreed that state’s actions to slow global warming would create more jobs. An equal number said it would mean fewer jobs or no change.

Surveys were conducted in mid-July and have a margin of error of plus-or-minus three percentage points.


Poll: Strongest Support Yet for Climate Action in California 1 August,2013Craig Miller


Craig Miller

Craig is KQED’s science editor, specializing in weather, climate, water & energy issues, with a little seismology thrown in just to shake things up. Prior to his current position, he launched and led the station’s award-winning multimedia project, Climate Watch. Craig is also an accomplished writer/producer of television documentaries, with a focus on natural resource issues.

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