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Californians and Climate Change
Mark Baldassare August 10, 2015

It’s been nine years since the movie "An Inconvenient Truth” had its debut and AB 32, the "California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006” was passed by the Democratic-controlled legislature and signed by Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Since then, Republicans and Democrats at the federal level have sparred over the scientific evidence on global warming, the government’s role in regulating greenhouse gases, and energy policies that will promote economic growth and well-being. Still, California likely voters’ strong support of AB 32—through good economic times and bad—has barely budged (66% PPIC July 2006, 63% PPIC July 2015).

The July 2015 PPIC poll finds that Californians’ economic fears are part of the reason for their steady support for AB 32—which requires California to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions back to 1990 levels by 2020. Among California’s likely voters, 69 percent say global warming is a threat to California’s economy and quality of life.

Another reason for likely voters’ support for AB 32 is their hope that it may improve the jobs outlook. Asked about the economic impact of state actions to reduce global warming, they are more likely to say the result will be more jobs for people in the state (34%) than to say that the result will be fewer jobs (24%) or that there will be no impact on jobs (29%).

Our polling finds a strong link between likely voters’ fears about the impact of climate change and hopes about state action to address it. Among those in favor of AB 32 today, the overwhelming majority say that global warming is a serious threat to the state’s economy. And a plurality of the supporters of AB 32 say the state’s actions to reduce global warming would lead to more jobs (44%). Less than a third (30%) say these actions would have no effect on job numbers. Just 14% say the result would be fewer jobs.

Californians have not only expressed consistent support for the state’s current goals to curb greenhouse gas emissions, they favor expanding those efforts. Solid majorities of likely voters strongly support three ideas proposed by Governor Brown earlier this year and reflected in SB 350, which is under consideration in the legislature: reducing petroleum use in cars and trucks by 50% by 2030, increasing the use of renewable energy for the state’s electricity to 50% by 2030, and doubling the energy efficiency in existing buildings by the year 2030. Most likely voters also support the proposal in another bill, SB 32, which would require the state to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050.

Once again, strong support of these more ambitious climate goals is tied to the perceived economic effects of both climate change and the state’s actions to address it. Overwhelming majorities of likely voters who favor the new proposals say that global warming is a very serious or somewhat serious threat to the economy (88% reduce petroleum use; 82% increase renewable energy; 85% double energy efficiency; 87% reduce greenhouse gas emissions). Among likely voters who favor these new proposals, pluralities say that California’s actions to reduce global warming will lead to more jobs. Small minorities who favor the new climate change proposals say there would be fewer jobs as a result of actions to reduce global warming.

To reach California’s goals to curb emissions, the state will need to find ways to drastically reduce its greenhouse gases and reliance on fossil fuels. On this topic, the poll finds strong majority support for policies that encourage more electric vehicles and solar power. Overwhelming majorities who favor these policies also view global warming as a serious threat to the economy. Pluralities of those who favor these proposals expect that actions to reduce global warming would lead to more jobs.

PPIC’s surveys have consistently shown that most Californians are aligned with the state’s current efforts and proposed policies, and that they have made up their minds about the perceived economic impacts of climate change and state actions to curb it. Still, the ongoing political debate over what steps to take relies on partisan talking points borrowed from the national arena. There is a shortfall of factual analysis to help leaders—and all Californians—understand the costs, benefits, and trade-offs they are being asked to make. Specifically, will climate change take a greater toll on poor and disadvantaged communities? How will climate change policies improve job prospects in these communities?

As one of the most important issues facing California’s future, climate policy is certainly deserving of a well-informed discussion and a thorough public hearing as new climate-oriented proposals make their way through the legislative process this summer.

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