Californians across the state are concerned about climate change and support plans to reduce harmful emissions and focus on renewable sources of energy. But there are stark differences when it comes to which residents of the Golden State see pollution as a serious threat to their family’s health.
According to a new survey by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), Latinos and African Americans are more likely than whites and Asian Americans to be worried about air and water pollution in their neighborhoods.
Of those surveyed, 33% of Latinos think air pollution is a serious health threat and 24% view water pollution the same way, while 29% of African Americans see air pollution as a major health threat and 20% think polluted drinking water poses a serious health threat. For Asian Americans, 17% think air pollution is a big problem and 19% view drinking water the same way. Among white residents surveyed, just 12% are seriously worried about air pollution hurting their health and a meager 8% are concerned about polluted drinking water.
“African Americans and Latinos are more likely than others to say that air and water pollution in their part of California are very serious health threats to themselves and their families,” PPIC president Mark Baldassare said in a statement.
The disparity stands out amid a host of other survey questions where Californians are broadly in agreement about the need to address climate change, with 77% supporting the state law that requires greenhouse gas emissions to be scaled back to 40% below 1990 levels by 2030. The same percentage of respondents approve a state policy that requires all of California’s electricity to come from renewable sources by 2045.
The health concerns among the state’s Black and Latino residents are not unwarranted. According to the American Lung Association, people of color are more likely to suffer health consequences, including early death, from air pollution. And because of persistent segregation, African Americans are more likely to live where they are more exposed to unhealthy air.
A 2019 report from the National Resources Defense Council found that people of color are also more likely to be exposed to unsafe drinking water. In California, that’s especially true in the heavily Latino Central Valley. According to Kaiser Health News, more than one in 10 people who live in 12 of the state’s counties — including San Joaquin and San Benito — have unsafe drinking water.
The PPIC poll found that Californians are more likely than U.S. residents overall to think global warming is very important and to say they are willing to change their own lifestyle to address the problem.
And while slightly more than half of the state’s residents say they trust the state to do what’s right on environmental issues most of the time, fewer than a quarter feel the same way about the federal government. More than 70 percent oppose more oil drilling off the coast of California, something the Trump administration has considered. Most likely voters say the way a presidential candidate thinks about the environment is important and the vast majority say Joe Biden would be better than President Donald Trump when it comes to handling environmental issues.
“Most Californians say that the conditions of California’s oceans and beaches are important to the state’s future,” Baldassare said.
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Author: Emily DeRuy