Poll: Nearly 70 percent of Sacramento region see wildfires, smoke as ‘serious’ risk

A climate change poll surveying nearly 1,000 residents in the greater Sacramento region found Northern Californians consider air pollution from wildfires and water issues to be their biggest environmental concerns.

In a poll conducted just a month after the Camp Fire raged through the town of Paradise killing 85 people, 68 percent of surveyed residents in Sacramento County and seven surrounding California counties said they believed wildfires and their resulting air pollution posed “very or extremely serious” risks for the future of their community.

The next biggest worries were drought at 58 percent, frequent heat waves at 45 percent and flooding at 35 percent.

The findings come from nonprofit research group Valley Vision, a civic leadership nonprofit and think tank that performs in-depth research and public opinion polls into “livability” in the greater capital region, as explained by CEO Bill Mueller.

The poll surveyed 985 residents among El Dorado, Placer, Sacramento, San Joaquin, Solano, Sutter and Yuba counties, and was conducted in December.

The biggest general areas of concern: 88 percent of those polled listed polluted air as an environmental problem in their community; 81 percent listed water pollution; 74 percent had worries about water supply; and 60 percent were concerned with the quality of their drinking water.

A total of 84 percent of those surveyed said they are “particularly concerned” about helping the environment in the course of their daily life, as opposed to “not particularly concerned.”

However, 37 percent of those polled said they could not afford to make personal changes to reduce climate change impact, and 22 percent said they didn’t know how.

A total of 49 percent of the inhabitants surveyed say the government is doing too little to reduce the effects of global climate change. Fifty-three percent said the government isn’t doing enough to manage forests appropriately, 45 percent said efforts to protect air quality are insufficient and 43 percent believe the government should do more to conserve water.

A majority of surveyed individuals see government environmental regulations as beneficial to quality of life (77 percent) and economic prosperity (62 percent) for the state.

“Overall, Capital Region residents care deeply about the environment, believe significant environmental problems exist, and believe more should be done to address those problems,” a summary of the survey’s results reads. “ ... 91% of people report that at least one climate issue (such as wildfires, smoke in air, hot temperatures, drought, flooding) has been a major issue for their family.”

What is the capital region doing about the environment?

Valley Vision’s study notes California is a “global leader in policymaking for environmental preservation and climate action,” pointing to a number of pieces of legislation aimed at reducing greenhouse gases, including the 100 Percent Clean Energy Act of 2018, and efforts to create sustainable, green transportation plans at the city, county and state level.

A political partisan distinction is found in the survey data as well: 98 percent of Democrats polled said humans have contributed to climate change, 75 percent of Republicans agreed.

In the poll, 81 percent said they help the environment by conserving energy and/or water in the last year. Fifty-three percent said they walked, biked or took public transit to curb their environmental impact, while 31 percent said they carpooled or used ridesharing in that timeframe. An additional 14 percent said they drove electric vehicles in the past year.

Respondents heavily supported expansion of solar panel farms (93 percent) and wind turbine farms (89 percent), while only 16 percent were in favor of expanding fracking, 23 percent favored coal mining expansion and 28 percent wanted to see more nuclear power.

Despite the enthusiasm for solar energy, only 12 percent said they installed solar panels at their homes in 2018.

The study is Valley Vision’s fourth in its “Regional Attitudes” series of opinion polls, following its livability and transportation polls in 2018 and a civic amenities poll in 2017.

The survey was conducted online with respondents in Sacramento County and seven nearby counties, with the panel’s demographics weighted based on factors including gender, age and education to reflect the region’s overall demographic profile, Valley Vision says. The margin of error for the survey is +/- 3.1 percent.

As a result of the weighted demographic methodology, 42 percent of the 985 respondents came from Sacramento County.

The climate change study was conducted with assistance from Sacramento State’s Institute for Social Research, and research partners included the Sierra Health Foundation and Western Health Advantage.

“These findings ought to give confidence to decision-makers that taking action to fight air pollution, clean our water, preserve precious farm land, and protect valued open space has huge public support, and it can be done in a way that advances jobs and economic opportunity for all,” an attached statement by Mueller and Institute for Social Research Executive Director Shannon Williams said.

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Michael McGough anchors The Sacramento Bee’s breaking news reporting team, covering public safety and other local stories. A Sacramento native and lifelong capital resident, he interned at The Bee while attending Sacramento State, where he earned a degree in journalism.