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Video: Californians and the Environment

Mary Severance August 6, 2020
Photo of Bixby Bridge

PPIC’s annual statewide survey on Californians and the environment tracks opinions on climate change and energy policy, ocean and coastal conditions, wildfires, and water policy. It also examines views on the COVID-19 outbreak, racial inequity, and the role of environmental issues in the November election. At an online briefing last Thursday, PPIC researcher Alyssa Dykman outlined these and other findings and discussed key takeaways with PPIC president (and survey director) Mark Baldassare.

Most Californians remain supportive of policies to address climate change, including laws to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Majorities say they are willing to make major lifestyle changes to address global warming. For Dykman, this continued support is notable in light of the COVID-19 pandemic: “Californians continue to approve of the state’s leading efforts to tackle climate change as well as being personally invested in the issue and willing to change.“

When asked to name the top environmental issue facing the state, Californians were most likely to mention global warming. Baldassare noted that this is the first time global warming or climate change has been mentioned most often. “When we first started asking this question in 2000, it came up zero times, and it had been in the single digits for many years,” he said. What is different about this year? Baldassare noted that California is now experiencing “not just air pollution but droughts and wildfires. And maybe a global event like the pandemic made people think . . . this is our top issue going forward.“

Dykman agreed, noting that climate change was named as the top issue across most state regions. But she also pointed to notable differences across racial/ethnic groups: “We find that about a quarter of Asian Americans and one in five whites say that climate change is the most important issue,” while African Americans and Latinos are more likely to name air pollution as the state’s largest environmental problem.

Most likely voters—Democrats and younger adults, in particular—say that the presidential candidates’ environmental stances are important in determining their vote in November. And seven in ten likely voters think Joe Biden would do a better job handling environmental issues.

About six in ten Californians have only some optimism that the state’s environmental problems will be under control 20 years from now—and only 14% have a great deal of optimism. Dykman pointed to differing levels of trust in state and federal leadership as a factor. “Californians are much more likely to say they trust the state government when it comes to environmental issues compared to the federal government,” she said. Baldassare noted that many Californians probably see a need for a “federal and state partnership” in addressing environmental challenges, but that “we are seeing federal and state differences.”

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