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Press Release · July 31, 2013

Record-High Majority Say State Should Act Now on Global Warming

By Slim Margins, Californians Oppose Fracking And Favor Keystone XL Pipeline

SAN FRANCISCO, July 31, 2013—A record-high majority of Californians say state government should act right away to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, rather than wait until the economy and job situation improve. This is among the key findings of a statewide survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC).

In PPIC’s 13th annual survey on the environment, 65 percent of Californians say the government should act right away to cut emissions—up 9 points since 2012. Less than a third (30%) say the state should wait for the economy to improve. Among likely voters, 59 percent say the state should act now, up 13 points since last year.

Residents express a sense of urgency in responses to another question: Most say it is very important (48%) or somewhat important (31%) that the state government pass regulations and spend money now on efforts to reduce global warming. Most also say it is very (53%) or somewhat (29%) important for the state to pass regulations and spend money now to prepare for global warming’s future effects.

“As the California economy shows signs of improving, this year’s survey shows strong public support for the state government taking action on global warming,” said Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO.

A large majority of Californians view global warming as a very serious threat (50%) or somewhat serious threat (27%) to California’s future economy and quality of life. Far fewer say the threat is not too serious (11%) or not at all serious (9%). Among racial/ethnic groups, Latinos (67%) and blacks (63%) are far more likely than whites (40%) or Asians (38%) to say global warming is a very serious threat. Among age groups, residents age 55 and older are less likely than younger Californians to hold this view.

Most state residents (63%) say the effects of global warming have already begun. Far fewer (22%) say the effects will occur sometime in the future, and 11 percent say they will never happen. Across political parties, most Democrats (73%) and independents (59%) say the effects of warming have begun. Just 38 percent of Republicans express this view, while 30 percent say the effects will occur in the future and 27 percent say they will never happen. Majorities across regions and demographic groups say the effects have begun, but there are differences. Latinos (73%) are much more likely than other racial/ethnic groups to express this view. And across regions, Orange/San Diego residents (55%) are the least likely to do so.

Threat of Wildfires Is Biggest Concern

When Californians are asked about four possible effects of global warming, a majority of residents (57%) are very concerned about more-severe wildfires, half (49%) are very concerned about more-severe droughts, and far fewer are very concerned about increased flooding (28%) or more-severe storms (28%).

Most residents (60%) and likely voters (62%) continue to favor the idea of California making its own policies, separate from the federal government, to address global warming. Solid majorities of adults (67%) and likely voters (63%) continue to support the principle behind the Global Warming Solutions Act, passed in 2006. Also known as AB 32, this law requires the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. In 2010, there was a sharp partisan divide in opinions, with 80 percent of Democrats and 39 percent of Republicans favoring the law. Today, the gap has narrowed: 77 percent of Democrats and 49 percent of Republicans are in favor.

Most Californians don’t view government actions to reduce global warming as a tradeoff between the environment and jobs. Just 24 percent say state action to reduce global warming will result in fewer jobs for state residents, while 45 percent say it will result in more jobs and 21 percent see no effect on jobs.

One of California’s signature programs to reduce emissions is cap-and-trade, which includes auctions of emissions allowances that began last November. Most residents (54%) have heard nothing about the program; 33 percent have heard a little and 12 percent a lot. The program’s revenues are being loaned to the state’s general fund this year. In the future, they will be used to further the goals of AB 32, with a portion spent to improve environmental conditions in lower-income or disadvantaged communities. An overwhelming majority say it is very (52%) or somewhat important (31%) to spend the money on these communities, while 15 percent say it is not too important. A large share of cap-and-trade revenue will likely go to transportation—the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in California—and housing infrastructure. How should this money be spent? Overwhelming majorities favor spending it on public transit, such as more buses or reduced transit fares (78%), and repaving roads and highways (72%). A smaller majority (60%) favor spending on housing and commercial developments near mass transit hubs.

Many policies to address global warming are being proposed or enacted, at both the state and federal level. The survey—which began shortly after President Barack Obama announced his Climate Action Plan—asked about several policy ideas and finds majority support for all of them:

  • Requiring oil companies to produce transportation fuels with lower emissions (81% adults, 77% likely voters favor)
  • Requiring industrial plants, oil refineries, and commercial facilities to reduce their emissions (80% adults,78% likely voters favor)
  • Requiring all automakers to further reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases from new cars (80% adults, 76% likely voters favor)
  • Requiring an increase in energy efficiency for residential and commercial buildings and appliances (76% adults, 74% likely voters favor)
  • Encouraging local governments to change land use and transportation planning so that people could drive less (76% adults, 72% likely voters favor)
  • Setting stricter emissions limits on power plants (76% adults, 73% likely voters favor)

How do Californians assess government efforts to address global warming? A majority of adults (53%) say the federal government is not doing enough. Fewer say state government (44%) and local government (44%) are not doing enough.

Job Approval Among Likely Voters at 54 Percent for Brown, Obama

Asked how they rate elected leaders, 48 percent of California adults approve of the overall job performance of Governor Jerry Brown. A record-high 54 percent of likely voters approve. His rating for handling environmental issues is lower: 39 percent of adults and 44 percent of likely voters approve. The state legislature’s overall approval rating is 36 percent among adults and 33 percent among likely voters. On environmental issues, the legislature has an approval rating of 38 percent among adults and 34 percent among likely voters.

A solid majority of Californians (61%) approve of President Obama’s job performance, as do 54 percent of likely voters. About half of adults (53%) and 46 percent of likely voters approve of his handling of environmental issues. Just 30 percent of adults and 18 percent of likely voters approve of the overall job Congress is doing. Congress’ rating on environmental issues is similar (29% adults, 18% likely voters).

Among Those Who Favor More Fracking, Most Want Stricter Regulation

As state legislators debate stricter regulations on fracking—already under way in California—51 percent oppose increased use of the drilling method used to extract oil and natural gas (35% favor it, 14% don’t know). Asked whether they favor or oppose stricter regulation of fracking, 50 percent say they are in favor. Among those who favor increased use of fracking, 62 percent also favor stricter regulation.

The survey asked about another hotly debated plan to increase the supply of oil: construction of the Keystone XL pipeline to carry oil from Canada to Texas refineries. Half of Californians (51%) favor building the pipeline, 34 percent oppose it, and 15 percent don’t know.

“Californians are conflicted when it comes to controversial efforts to expand the oil supply,” said Baldassare. “Slim majorities favor building the Keystone XL pipeline but also oppose fracking, with many wanting stricter regulation of the practice.”

Offshore oil drilling and nuclear power have been contentious issues in energy policy, and the survey shows that most residents today oppose the expansion of either. Asked about more oil drilling off California’s coast, 54 percent oppose and 41 percent favor it. Among those living in coastal areas, 57 percent oppose more drilling, while those inland are divided (49% favor, 47% oppose). In the wake of the closure of San Onofre nuclear power plant—one of two in the state—63 percent oppose building more plants. Majorities across parties, regions, and demographic groups are opposed.

Asked about renewable sources of energy, 79 percent favor an increase in federal funding to develop wind, solar, and hydrogen technologies. And 70 percent favor a 2011 state law that requires a third of California’s electricity to come from renewable energy sources by 2020. But support drops to 44 percent if this will result in higher electricity bills.

Most Say Air Pollution Is a Problem

A majority of Californians say air pollution is a big problem (28%) or somewhat of a problem (34%) in the region where they live. Adults living in the Inland Empire (44%), Los Angeles (40%), and Central Valley (31%) are much more likely to say it is a big problem than those living in the San Francisco Bay Area (16%) and Orange/San Diego (14%). Latinos (41%) and blacks (40%) are much more likely to express this view than Asians (23%) and whites (20%). About half of Californians say air pollution in their region is a very serious (22%) or somewhat serious (30%) threat to their health or the health of their immediate families. Residents are divided when asked if they think air pollution is a more serious health threat in lower-income areas of their region (48% yes, 46% no).

A Majority of Workers Are Solo Drivers

Two-thirds of residents (67%) who work full or part time drive alone to work. Just 14 percent say they carpool, and fewer take public transportation (8%), walk (4%), or bike (3%) to work. Another 4 percent volunteer that they work at home. The percentage of Californians driving solo to work declined 11 points between 2003 (73%) and 2008 (62%) but has remained above 65 percent since 2011.

About half of Californians (53%) say that they have seriously considered getting a more fuel-efficient vehicle the next time they buy or lease one; 24 percent say they already have a fuel-efficient car. Half (51%) say that have seriously considered a hybrid or electric vehicle, while 6 percent say they already have one.


This PPIC Statewide Survey was conducted with funding from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. Survey methods, questions, and content are determined solely by PPIC. This survey is the 13th on the environment since 2000. Findings are based on a survey of 2,103 adult residents reached by landline and cell phones throughout the state. Interviews took place from July 9–23, 2013. They were conducted in English, Spanish, Chinese (Mandarin or Cantonese), Korean, and Vietnamese, according to respondents’ preferences. The sampling error, taking design effects from weighting into consideration, is ±3 percent for all adults. For the 1,691 registered voters, it is ±3.4 percent, and for the 1,273 likely voters, it is ±3.9 percent. For more information on methodology, see pages 25–26.

Mark Baldassare is president and CEO of PPIC, where he holds the Arjay and Frances Fearing Miller Chair in Public Policy. He is founder of the PPIC Statewide Survey, which he has directed since 1998.

PPIC is dedicated to informing and improving public policy in California through independent, objective, nonpartisan research on major economic, social, and political issues. The institute was established in 1994 with an endowment from William R. Hewlett. As a private operating foundation, PPIC does not take or support positions on any ballot measure or on any local, state, or federal legislation, nor does it endorse, support, or oppose any political parties or candidates for public office.