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Recession Erodes Support for Environment

New America Media, News Report, Vanessa Hernandez Posted: Aug 02, 2009

SACRAMENTO -- Hard economic times may be eroding support for cleaning up the environment. A statewide survey on the environment by the Public Policy Institute of California showed a dip in that support over a similar survey taken a year ago.

The survey also revealed an ethnic divide, with Latinos, Asians and African Americans more concerned about environmental issues than whites.

Mark Baldassare, president and CEO of the PPIC, said that most Californians continue to see global warming as a threat to the states economy and quality of life, but that the percentage of residents who categorize the threat as very serious has declined over the past two years from 54 percent to 47 percent. Residents are divided over whether the state government should take action to reduce emissions right away (48 percent) or wait until the economy and state budget situation improve (46 percent).

We continue to see Californians are very concerned about climate issues but not so much as in last year, said Baldassare.

Californians are also less likely to see air pollution as a major problem today. In fact, one in four Californians is very satisfied with the air quality in the region today, a seven-point increase since last year. Only 23 percent of Californians believe air pollution is a big problem, an 11 percent drop since last years 34 percent.

In the Central Valley, 36 percent of residents see it as a problem, a 15-point drop since last year. The percentage of Latinos who view air pollution as a big problem is down from 45 percent in 2008 to 30 percent today.

The shift in opinion has been seen across the board. The differences across the racial and ethnic groups, however, remain. Latinos continue to be more likely to see air pollution as a threat, especially in poorer neighborhoods. Seventy percent of Latinos (compared to 32 percent of whites) believe that air pollution poses a more serious health threat in lower income areas.

Californians still say that gas prices are a financial hardship but by a lower margin than last year69 percent now compared to 76 percent in 2008. Among Latinos, 85 percent reported that gas prices are a burden for themselves or family, and they are more likely to make transportation choices that reflect it, such as carpooling.

We found a vast majority of Latinos report that gas prices have caused a financial hardship for them, said Sonja Petek, of PPIC. They are the most likely group to say they have cut back on their driving, used alternative means of transportation or have considered purchasing a more fuel-efficient car the next time they buy a vehicle.

An increasing number of Californians say droughts are a serious issue.

Californians are more divided on handling future water demands, with 50 percent favoring greater conservation and more efficient water use and 43 percent favoring building new water storage systems and increasing supply. Water supply and drought were seen by 18 percent Californians as the most important issue, up 13 points from last year, making it second only to air pollution.

Historically the most important environmental issue facing California has always been air pollution above all others. Thats still true this year but only by a two-point margin because water and droughts have gone all the way up to almost within the margin of error, with air pollution at 20 percent and drought at 18 percent, said Baldassare.

Californians perceive global warming as a critical issue and think the government should be more involved than years before. But the economy has colored their views, Petek said.

The economic concerns of the people in recession, she said, rising unemployment and foreclosures, have become a priority.

Related Articles:

The Climate Gap -- Poor, Minorities Hardest Hit by Climate Change

Big Coal Cleans Up Through Bailouts

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