Sacrificing for the Environment—To a Point

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

The Public Policy Institute of California’s extensive environmental survey revealed that Californians are strong on environmental protections, but some answers make you wonder how far residents will go to back-up their pro-environment views. 

When asked if they would be willing to make major lifestyle changes to address global warming, respondents overwhelmingly agreed. More than seven out of ten adults said they would be willing to sacrifice.

But in the same poll, when asked if they would be willing to pay more for electricity generated by renewable energy to reduce global warming only 47% were willing to pay more for electricity. 

Also muddying the situation is that a robust 77% agreed with the state’s plan to have 100% of electricity from renewable sources by 2045. 

But more than half are not willing to pay for higher electricity costs? That doesn’t compute.

This inconsistency begs the question if respondents answer the broader questions without considering consequences but express a different notion when specific costs are involved. 

I asked PPIC president and polling master Mark Baldassare how to explain the inconsistency. 

He thought current economic conditions influenced the answers pollsters received when asking if residents would pay higher electricity costs. “Eighty percent saying that we will have bad economic times for the next 12 months and 71 percent worried about the negative impact of COVID-19 on personal finances may be leading to pragmatism about what people can afford to do now.”   

Baldassare added that the pledge to alter lifestyles might relate to the fact the poll found two-thirds of the respondents said global warming is an extremely/very important issue. He noted that is much higher than the national surveys. 

However, the pollster said more specifics could be acquired with an open-ended follow up question on what kind of lifestyle changes Californians would accept. 

There is another follow-up question I would have liked to see in this survey. It has to do with the cap and trade program that generated much debate over costs and benefits as it established rules for businesses to buy credits against greenhouse gas emissions. 

Despite extensive coverage, 54% of the poll respondents said they knew nothing about the cap and trade program. When it was explained to them as a way to limit greenhouse gases, those polled supported the idea by almost two-to-one. When asked an additional follow-up if it were important to spend revenues gained from cap and trade to improve environmental conditions in low income communities, support was strong with 78% answering it was either very important or somewhat important. 

Another follow up question could have been asked about cap and trade revenue: How do you feel about spending cap and trade funds on the high-speed rail? 

Cap and trade dollars keep the bullet train moving forward. Many Californians have reached the conclusion the rail project is a boondoggle. I would have liked to see how those polled would answer that question.

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