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Press Release · July 21, 2005

Special Survey On The Environment: Whose World Is It Anyway? Californians Say State Should Take Lead On Global Warming

Concern Over Air Pollution Trumps Economic, Financial Considerations Little Support for Schwarzenegger, Bush on Environmental Issues

SAN FRANCISCO, California, July 21, 2005 — Driven by concerns about how global warming will degrade their quality of life and by a profound lack of confidence in the environmental and energy tilt of the federal government, Californians want the state to act on its own to address the problem, according to a new survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) with funding from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

For most Californians, global warming is a real or looming phenomenon: 86 percent believe it will affect current or future generations, and 57 percent believe the effects are already being felt. Three in four (75%) say the effects of global warming on the state’s economy and quality of life will be very or somewhat serious. And large majorities of state residents say they are at least somewhat concerned about the possible impacts of global warming, including increased air pollution (86%), more severe droughts (78%), greater coastal erosion (67%), and increased flooding (60%).

Of those who believe global warming will affect current or future generations, 62 percent identify human activities as the primary cause; only 22 percent say naturally occurring increases in temperature are responsible. So what do Californians want to do about it? A majority (54%) express a preference for their state government to develop its own policies, apart from the federal government, to address the issue of global warming. Some current state efforts get broad public support:

  • 77 percent favor the state law requiring automakers to further reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases from new cars in California, beginning in 2009. Support for this measure has remained steady since June 2002.
  • 69 percent support the greenhouse gas (GHG) emission targets recently established by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, which aim to reduce GHG emissions from cars, power plants, and industry by more than 80 percent over the next 50 years.

Why are Californians more inclined to see the state, rather than the federal government, as a potential problem-solver? “It’s a question of trust,” says PPIC statewide survey director Mark Baldassare. “Californians do not have much faith in government in general, but when it comes to environmental and energy issues, they clearly see the state as more adequately representing their interests.”

Indeed, more residents trust the state government (52%) than the federal government (43%) to provide correct information about the condition of the environment – although both receive considerably less public trust than do scientists and researchers at universities (78%) and environmental organizations (64%). The state is also favored over the federal government when it comes to protecting the quality of the environment; however, only about one in three Californians trusts the state government (37%) or the federal government (32%) to do what is right just about always or most of the time.

Bush, Schwarzenegger Feel the Heat

On a range of environmental and energy issues, state residents are at odds with the Bush administration and federal priorities. This disconnect has done little to help performance ratings for President George W. Bush: Overall, four in 10 California adults (38%) say they approve of President Bush’s performance in office. Fewer state residents approve of his handling of environmental (32%) and energy (29%) issues, and majorities disapprove of his performance in both areas (54% environment, 53% energy). The differences between the energy priorities of the federal government (oil drilling and nuclear power) and those of state residents (fuel efficiency) are illuminating:

  • A majority of state residents (56%) oppose new oil drilling in federally-protected areas such as the Alaskan wilderness. On a related note, Californians (53%) also remain opposed to allowing more oil drilling off the California coast.
  • Most Californians (59%) oppose constructing new nuclear power plants in order to expand U.S. energy sources. While 33 percent of Californians support building more nuclear power plants, only 20 percent would still support the plan if a plant were built within 50 miles of their home. Similarly, although 48 percent of state residents favor the construction of liquefied natural gas terminals, only 29 percent would still support the plan if a facility were located within 50 miles of their home.
  • 83 percent of Californians favor requiring automakers to significantly improve the fuel efficiency of cars – and 73 percent support the policy even if it increases the cost of buying a new car.

Unlike President Bush, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has been quick to show that he is close to the hearts and minds of Californians when it comes to environmental and energy issues. A solid majority of residents (55%) approve of his plan to encourage the development of hydrogen fuel cell technology and most (76%) endorse his effort to provide incentives for the use of solar energy in homes and businesses.

Have these efforts paid off for the governor? Overall, his approval rating is at a low point (34%), down from 40 percent in May. And Californians are divided when it comes to his handling of environmental issues, with 32 percent of residents saying they approve and 35 percent saying they disapprove. “Schwarzenegger’s problem is more global and has little to do with his environmental record,” says Baldassare. In the broader context, 51 percent of Californians say the state is headed in the wrong direction and 54 percent oppose holding a special election in November.

Californians Want Progress on Air Pollution and Are Willing to Pay to Get It

Air pollution (26%) tops the list of most important environmental issues facing the state, surpassing the next most important issues – pollution in general, water pollution, and energy (6% each) – by 20 points. The concern about air pollution is most strongly held by blacks (33%), although whites (28%), Asians (27%), and Latinos (23%) all consider air pollution the primary environmental issue. Los Angeles (31%) and Inland Empire (29%) residents are more likely than San Francisco Bay Area (23%) and Orange/San Diego area (22%) residents to view air pollution as the top issue.

Thirty-eight percent of Californians view air pollution as a big problem in their region today, and that is 10 points higher than it was five years ago (28% in June 2000). Moreover, during the past five years, there has been a dramatic rise in the perception of air pollution as a big problem in both the Central Valley (28% to 45%) and the Inland Empire (28% to 48%). While residents of these two regions are most likely to say that the air quality in their area has gotten worse in the past 10 years, concerns about deteriorating air quality span all regions of the state.

Six in 10 Californians (57%) believe air pollution in their region is at least a somewhat serious health threat to themselves and their families. The growing perception that California’s air is polluted – and that air pollution poses a serious health threat – may be driving a willingness to ante up to help alleviate the problem and to demand the same response from businesses. For example, state residents are more likely to cite vehicle emissions (42%) than other factors, including population growth and development (21%), as the greatest contributor to air pollution. Their response? Three in four residents (75%) support tougher air pollution standards on new cars, trucks, and SUVs, and 66 percent support such standards even if it increases the cost of purchasing a vehicle. Similarly, seven in 10 Californians (69%) say they would seriously consider purchasing or leasing a hybrid vehicle, including 56 percent who would do so even if it cost more than a conventional vehicle. Six in 10 residents (59%) support stricter air pollution standards for agriculture and farm activities, with 54 percent supporting such standards even if it costs agricultural businesses more to operate. And support for tougher pollution controls is even higher (77%) when it comes to cargo ships, trucks, and trains, with 70 percent of residents favoring this policy even if it raises the cost of doing business in these industries.

Gas Price Spike Affecting Actions, Attitudes

Has the recent escalation in gasoline prices translated into increased efforts by Californians to reduce their driving? Many residents (43%) say they have already cut back significantly on their driving time because of recent price increases, while 51 percent say they have not. Not surprisingly, cutting back on driving is strongly related to income: While only 31 percent of Californians with a household income of $80,000 or more claim to be driving less, 51 percent of residents with household incomes under $40,000 say they have reduced their driving. However, higher gas prices have clearly had a widespread effect: 64 percent of state residents – including majorities across all income categories – say they would seriously consider buying or leasing a more fuel-efficient car.

More Key Findings

  • Lots of Interest, Less Involvement Among Blacks, Latinos — Page 18
    Most Californians (86%) – including strong majorities of whites, Latinos, blacks, and Asians – say they are interested in news and information about environmental issues. However, whites are more likely to be personally involved in environmental organizations or related activities than are other racial/ethnic groups, particularly Latinos and blacks. For example, 14 percent of whites say they have volunteered their time in the past year to work on an environmental issue, compared to 8 percent of Latinos and blacks.
  • Media Gets Low Marks — Page 16
    When residents are asked to assess the trustworthiness of five entities in providing correct information about the environment, scientists and researchers at universities (78%) receive the most trust, while the news media get the least (39%).

About the Survey

This survey on the environment – made possible by funding from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation – is a special edition of the PPIC Statewide Survey. This is the second in a three-year survey series intended to raise public awareness, inform decisionmakers, and stimulate public discussions about a variety of education, environment, and population issues facing California. Findings of this survey are based on a telephone survey of 2,502 California adult residents interviewed between June 28 and July 12, 2005. Interviews were conducted in English, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, or Vietnamese. The sampling error for the total sample is +/- 2%. The sampling error for subgroups is larger. For more information on methodology, see page 19.

Mark Baldassare is research director at 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. His recent book, A California State of Mind: The Conflicted Voter in a Changing World, is available at

PPIC is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to improving public policy through objective, nonpartisan research on the economic, social, and political issues that affect Californians. The institute was established in 1994 with an endowment from William R. Hewlett. 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.