SAN FRANCISCO -- A majority of Californians want to move forward with environmental regulation, despite a tough economy, with the strongest support coming from those with the highest joblessness rates, according to a new survey by the Public Policy Institute of California.
A poll released last week found that two-thirds of Californians approve of AB 32 - a state law that calls for reductions in global-warming pollution, and nearly 60 percent favor taking action right away, rather than waiting for the state economy or job situation to improve. The survey of 2,504 adults was conducted July 5-19 in English, Spanish, Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese.
“In the face of serious economic downturn, and that continues with high unemployment, residents in California remain steadfast in their support for environmental regulations that call for clean air and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and that is very important finding,” said Mark Baldassare, PPIC’s president and CEO.
California has the second highest unemployment rate in the nation, with 11.8 percent of Californians out of jobs compared to the national rate of 9.2 percent.
Support for the state’s landmark climate change law was highest among ethnic Californians: nearly three-fourths of Asians, blacks and Latinos support AB 32, compared to 61 percent for whites. Sixty-nine percent of blacks and Latinos and 53 percent of Asians want the state to act now to reduce greenhouse gases that cause global warming, compared to 51 percent of whites.
“People of color are the strongest environmentalists in California,” said Roger Kim, executive director of the Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN). “Air pollution, climate change, clean energy - [our communities have] the highest level of concern and favor more action from government at all levels,” he said during a briefing on the poll for ethnic media on Wednesday.
Support for environmental policies was strongest among African Americans and Latinos, who also have the highest unemployment levels in the state - 19.5 percent and 14.7 percent, respectively, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“Most Californians believe climate change policy will lead to more jobs and address environmental problems and air pollution they are concerned about,” Baldassare said.
Pablo Garza, associate director for external affairs and state policy with the Nature Conservancy, said Californians’ strong support for environmental regulation during the economic downturn contrasts the “negative mood” of the nation and Washington, where federal legislation to tackle climate change has gone nowhere.
“California leads the nation on environmental policy and attitudes, and Latino, African-American and Asian communities are the environmental vote in the state,” said Garza, citing the defeat last November of Proposition 23, which called for the indefinite suspension of the state’s climate change law AB 32.
This year’s poll findings track with numbers from 2010, which showed that African Americans, Asian Americans and Latinos were at the forefront of support for the state’s climate change law.
The state’s ethnic communities were more likely to perceive climate change as a threat to health than their white counterparts, the poll found. Seventy-two percent of African Americans, 61 percent of Latinos and 52 percent of Asians said they were “very concerned” global warming would increase air pollution, compared to 36 percent of whites. They were also more likely than whites to believe that policies to reduce global warming would create jobs.
Jakada Imani, executive director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, said outreach to ethnic communities about the environment needs to focus on issues relevant to their lives, such as air pollution.
“We don’t talk about polar bears,” he said.
“The environment is very personal and impacts us everyday it’s very much connected to issues of health, economics and politics,” said Kim.
Californians rank air pollution as the most important environmental issue. A majority (53 percent) of Californians said they consider the health risks from air pollution as very or somewhat serious. Seventy-seven percent of blacks and 67 percent of Latinos felt that way, compared to 44 percent of whites and 43 percent for Asians.
APEN’s Kim said that Asian immigrants in the United States come from Asian cities where air pollution is much worse, so “in comparison, the air here seems better.” He said the poll also shows varying socioeconomic status in the community, adding that perceptions of health risks from air pollution in low-income regions are in line with their black and Latino counterparts.
Yet despite the strong levels of support by ethnic Californians for environmental action and policies, activists say their voices are still not being heard.
“We’re not a part of the debate happening at all government levels,” said Kim.
He pointed to recent legislation signed by Gov. Jerry Brown that requires the state to get one-third of its electricity from renewable sources such as the sun and wind by 2020. This legislation will spur opportunities, Kim said, and ethnic Californians need to be at the table to ensure the implementation plan benefits the communities most in need.