How Westerners See Climate Change
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.”
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.