The University of Arizona

How Westerners See Climate Change

March 14, 2011
Author Profile: 

Do you ever wonder what Westerners think about climate change, energy choices and broader conservation issues? I do, and I was thus quite interested in the results of a new survey of 2200 western voters carried out by a bipartisan research team of Lori Weigel at Public Opinion Strategies (Republican pollsters) and David Metz of Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates (Democratic pollsters) in collaboration with the “State of the Rockies Project” at Colorado College in Colorado Springs.

The five-state survey revealed quite an array of interesting attitudes. For example, 9 out 10 Westerners would rather spend a day outdoors than a day in a city. Not that surprising, eh? And an overwhelming majority of voters surveyed also attach a high “importance to having clean water, clean air, natural areas and wildlife as a fundamental ingredient in the good quality of life in their state (87% extremely or very important).” No big surprise here either.

But how about the finding that “Two-thirds believe the current laws protecting land, air and water should be strengthened, or at least better enforced (66% combined, 18% strengthened, 48% better enforced)’? Quite interesting, as was the finding that “even when provided with an economic rationale for reducing some of these standards on major employers such as agriculture and construction, three-quarters of Western voters believe the current “protections for land, air and water that apply to major industries” should be maintained. It seems logical that if you value your outdoors, you don’t want it spoiled.

And 77% of Westerners believe that “we can protect land and water and have a strong economy with good jobs at the same time, without having to choose one over the other.” Well, before the recession at least, the West’s economy was pretty vibrant, and it’ll be that way again. And this widespread opinion seems to extend to renewable energy. The survey found that “one area where voters see the potential for job growth is increasing the use of renewable energy sources, as two-thirds (67%) perceives this to be a job creator for their state. Only 12% think this would cost their state jobs.” Again, renewable energy has been a job creator, so this won’t come to many as a surprise.

What is a bit surprising is that voters polled across all five states “indicate that they would dramatically increase the amount of their state’s electricity needs being produced by renewable sources. The average percentage they indicate that should come from renewable sources is 65%. “ And, most of those polled across all five states agree that it is “time to start replacing coal with other energy sources like wind and solar power (70% agree, 28% disagree).” This would certainly make a difference when it comes to climate change. And, the survey also found that “fully 88% indicate a willingness to pay something more each month for this purpose.”

Many westerners polled think that it is time to start replacing coal with other energy sources like wind and solar power.

But, the reasons for wanting to take action on energy, and being willing to pay for it are not dominated by worry about climate change.  Instead, “air quality ranks as a top tier environmental concern in all of these states – 32% volunteer air pollution related issue just edging out water quality concerns (30%) in an open-ended question where respondents could volunteer anything as the most important environmental problem facing their state.” And, voters surveyed might be after these “co-benefits” of reducing greenhouse gas pollution, because the survey found that respondents are mostly (67% supporting and 30% opposed) in favor of EPA “requiring reductions in carbon emissions from sources like power plants, cars and factories in an effort to reduce global warming.”


The survey revealed some other interesting details, and it’s worth a look. The bottom line is that Westerners want to preserve the quality of life they’ve come to love in the West. As we talk about what climate change is doing to the West, this is good to keep in mind.




Thanks Peck WOuld be

Thanks Peck WOuld be interesting to know if these attituded translate into preferred policy measures that accord with longstanding green politics - probably not since Green voting is so low, outside a few centers like Flagstaff and inner city Tucson. Policy measures I am thinking of include; heavy tax on polluters; heavy tax on gasoline and polluting vehicles, better investment in public transport; more environmental education in schools; much greater regulation of industry generally, through a strengthened EPA or other bodies with real teeth; reducing carbon use by keeping the coal in the ground and the coal power stations out of use; etc.

Thanks Simon - I'd certainly

Thanks Simon - I'd certainly like to know more about the numbers, particularly in the Southwest. i saw a talk a few weeks back that suggested that public opinion regarding climate change in Arizona was more informed regarding climate science than the average state in the United States, and also that the public in Arizona was more concerned about climate change than average. That might not be what you'd expect with some of the other national news Arizona seems to make these days. I suspect attitudes about climate change in Arizona are in part informed by the increasingly obvious manifestations of climate change in the state. The fact that the big reservoirs on the Colorado are now only half full, plus the hotter than average temperatures and perhaps the big uptick in forest/woodland tree death and wildfire, are all making it pretty clear that climate change is a real issue. You'd know more than me, but I suspect the lack climate change policy across the state might reflect that climate change is still not the issue that people of our great state are voting on. Other issues seem to dominate, and since i'm not a political scientist, I'll leave it at that.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.