Thursday, July 28, 2011

PPIC: Californians Love Green Energy, Just Not Understanding It or Paying for It

If you want to understand why California has the environmental policies it has, you really need look no further than the latest public opinion survey from the Public Policy Institute of California.

First up, we have the silly and self-congratulatory ignorance. A plurality of the survey's respondents (44%) believe that air quality in their part of California has gotten worse in the past 10 years, and about 62% said it hadn't gotten better. This is ridiculous: no less an authority than the EPA found that pollution levels in the San Joaquin Valley and the LA Basin had improved substantially over that period; and no less an authority than the California Air Resources Board recently revised the emissions target for AB 32 downward after realizing that the state's sluggish economy was producing fewer greenhouse gases. Moreover, even though we've just experienced one of the wettest, coldest winters in years, the proportion of Californians who believe we're already experiencing the effects of global warming shot up 7% from last year. Worst of all, almost half (47%) believe that state action on environmental issues will create jobs. Evidently most Californians don't realize this has been tried before.

Second, we have an unreserved embrace of government power. Two-thirds of respondents support AB 32, and 57% favor the idea that Sacramento should act on its own without waiting for federal policies to combat global warming, and should do so regardless of economic conditions. Almost 80% favor government action to curtail greenhouse gas emissions; 54% favor cap and trade, while 60% favor a carbon tax. The new requirement that one-third of California's energy come from renewable sources gets a thumbs-up from 77% of residents. Strong majorities favor tougher federal standards on auto emissions (84%) and federal subsidies for wind, solar, and hydrogen technologies (80%). Moreover, large majorities also support new ways of controlling climate change, including requiring utilities to produce more renewable energy (82%), encouraging local-government planners to push less driving through their designs (79%), and requiring greater efficiency from buildings and appliances (74%). The PPIC did not ask respondents how they felt about green energy given that the technology meant to deliver it is still embryonic.

The poll only pokes two holes in this picture of strong support for climate control: when asked whether they'd support the mandate to produce one-third of the state's energy via renewables even if it created higher utility bills, support for the mandate dropped from 77% to 46%. Interestingly, a surprisingly high proportion (46%) of respondents also supported oil drilling off of California's coast. Guess they haven't enjoyed those gas price increases.

So, if we're reading the PPIC results correctly, it looks like Californians are enthusiastic about tackling climate change. As long as doing so places no net burden on businesses, government action has no unintended consequences, the technologies work as expected, and taxpayers outside the state pick up most of the costs. With the failures of renewable-energy projects piling up, businesses fleeing the state's hostile (and uncertain) regulatory climate, and a crisis looming with respect to AB 32's political legitimacy, it'll be interesting to see how these results stand in a year or two.


  1. I think we go the European path on this: lip service in public, business-as-usual in practice with higher taxes and/or electric+fuel prices along the way.

  2. The results won't change in a year or two, because the California media can be relied upon to carry water for hairshirt environmentalism and blame any problems resulting from AB 32's implementation on the remaining slivers of freedom in the energy market.

  3. The better question: will anyone still be living in California to read that PPIC report in 2013?

  4. I did. Good thing we defunded those paranoid anti-government radicals!