Public Opinion Pushes Action on Climate Change, Usually

Jack Sparrow's compassWhy is it that California is able to take such a strong lead on  climate change, while the U.S. federal administration stands around questioning the science and refusing to undertake any real action on the issue?

It's tempting to blame the polls. While there are many altruistic and economic reasons Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and California legislators are taking such a strong stance on climate change, it would be naïve to overlook the importance of public opinion polls showing that Californians are concerned and want action.

A look at polling data in California in 2003 compared to today illustrates the trend:

In 2003, 68% of Californians believed that increased carbon dioxide and other gases released into the atmosphere will, if unchecked, lead to global warming.

In 2006, 63% believe the effects of global warming are already underway.

In 2003, 54% of Californians believed that global warming will pose a serious threat to them in their lifetime. In 2006, 79% believe global warming is a serious threat now.

In 2003, 57% of identified Democrats in California believed that the U.S. should join other countries in setting standards to reduce green house gases; 42% of identified Republicans believed the same.

In 2006, 80% of all Californians believe that state legislators should act to reduce green house gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. Along party lines, 73% of Democrats and 62% of Republicans support California’s unilateral action on climate change.

So, Arnie is not so much standing up as a courageous California leader; he's just following his electorate. If you look to other states, you see that they are also acting, and so are cities.

The question this raises, then, is: What's happening in D.C.?

Two recent national polls, a June, 2006 poll, and an August, 2006 poll shows that 74% of respondents describe global warming as a very or somewhat serious problem. That  leaves President George Bush and Senate Environment Committee Chair Jimmy Inhofe out of step.

In public relations (as is usually the case in politics) public opinion polls provide a compass in making policy and communicating on your issue. Perhaps G.W. Bush, et al, got a climate change compass from Captain Jack Sparrow - it may work, but it doesn't point north.