The Public Policy Institute poll boosted the argument for state governmental action on climate change – or so it seemed. Asked if likely voters agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 respondents liked the idea by 63% to 29%. Asked if the objectives set by SB 350 to require by 2030 that 50% of the state’s electricity come from renewable energy; petroleum use in cars be reduced by 50% and energy efficiency in buildings double, likely voters gave pollsters a loud affirmative: 74% on renewables, 63% on petroleum reduction and 68% on building efficiency.

However, that is as far as the poll went – it did not raise any consequences for the putting such mandates in place so there is no way to know how voters might react if they heard counter arguments.

It is one thing to ask if you like the idea of having ice cream at every meal and another to ask if you would accept ice cream at every meal if you understood that it could lead to weight gain and other potentially detrimental issues.

Hold the letters–I’m not comparing eating ice cream and greenhouse gases. But, you get the point about how answers might change depending on the information the poll respondents hear.

Perhaps voters would dismiss any negative arguments. They could think the goal of reducing greenhouse gases is paramount. They would also hear comments on what might happen if no action on climate change were taken. Yet, the issue of what effects SB 350 could have on the economy and the effects on poorer citizens is certainly part of the debate and was not tested in the poll.

I asked PPIC president and pollster Mark Baldassare why potential negative cost implications of rising gas prices were not included in questions about SB 350. He said without specific cost information at the time of the survey, PPIC chose to look at the overall tracking question on the job impacts of the state doing things to reduce global warming as an indicator of perceived impacts.

That question asked: “Do you think that California doing things to reduce global warming in the future would cause there to be more jobs for people around the state, would cause there to be fewer jobs, or wouldn’t affect the number of jobs for people around the state?”

The results were fairly split: More jobs 38%, Fewer jobs 24% and No effect, 26%, Don’t know 13%.

The jobs argument will be central to the debate. Advocates for immediate action on climate change point to increased jobs in the relatively new industry of renewable energies; opponents claim jobs will be lost that rely on oil production both directly and indirectly.

Baldassare considered whether the poll numbers would change much if the negative arguments were included in the poll. He said, “I’m not sure if the responses would be different if the questions included the hypothetical pros and cons, and it may depend on how much of a benefit or how much of a cost is mentioned in these items.”

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