emdot/FlickrSupport for additional nuclear power in California has dropped since the Japan tsunami. Above, the Diablo Canyon plant.
Californians are worried about climate change and overwhelmingly support measures to reduce the state’s output of greenhouse gas emissions. But just how they are going to do that, at what cost, and whether they believe their political leadership can do it is not so clear.
A survey by the Public Policy Institute of California, released last night, shows that 47 percent of Californians see climate change as a very serious threat, while nearly a third say it is somewhat serious.
And 80 percent support increased federal funding to develop renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, and hydrogen technology. However, if the cost gets reflected in utility bills that are too high, support drops off to just under 50 percent.
“This survey provides convincing evidence that Californians are concerned about climate change, not just in an abstract sense, but its very real impacts on California,” said Mark Baldassare, president and CEO of the institute.
Not surprisingly, said Baldassare, support for nuclear power has slumped in the past year, likely the result of the devastation at the Fukushima nuclear power plant following the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami.
According to the public policy institute, 65 percent of adults oppose building more nuclear power plants, while 30 percent are in favor. That is the lowest level of support the institute has reported since they started the survey, and a 14-point drop since last year.
Respondents are also closely divided on offshore drilling, despite the BP disaster last year. The divide appears largely along party lines, with 46 percent of California supporting offshore drilling, and 49 percent opposed. Support has increased by 12 points since last year.
“Not sure these surveys make much difference in terms of public policy,” said Richard Charter, senior policy advisor for marine programs for Defenders of Wildlife, a conservation organization. Charter has been actively involved in fighting legislation that would open up the California coast to new offshore drilling.
“Fresh oil is still rising along the coast of Florida, Louisiana and Alabama. But the media has moved on. And once the media moves on, the public forgets,” he said.
But it is clear from the survey, which was funded by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, that state respondents are not happy with their political leadership when it comes to the environment.
More than a third of the respondents said they aren’t sure what Gov. Jerry Brown is doing on environmental issues, while only 35 percent approve of what he’s doing. He fared slightly better than the state legislature, which only got 31 percent approval on the way it is handling the environment.
"People have been hearing from Jerry Brown about one issue since he was elected: The budget, the budget, the budget,” said Baldassare of the Public Policy Institute. “Largely, people are unaware about Governor Brown’s plans and initiatives. It’ll be important for him to spell that out in greater detail.”
President Barack Obama did a bit better, with 47 percent of respondents approving of his handling of the environment. Congress only got a 25 percent approval rating.
“What’s clear is that a change to a new energy supply will bring jobs,” said Baldassare. “They aren’t seeing only environmental problems, but a way to a better economic future.”