The number of Arizonans who believe climate change is a “serious problem” has grown sharply in the past three years, according to an annual survey of Western-state voters’ opinions on environmental issues.
That was just one finding of the Conservation in the West Poll released Thursday by Colorado College’s State of the Rockies Project. It also claimed that voters in eight states are worried about water and climate issues, disappointed in recent federal rollback of environmental protections and even willing to pay more taxes for conservation.
The survey, the ninth annual, said 73 percent of Arizona voters claim to be worried about climate change in 2019, up from 63 percent in 2016. That was higher than the 69 percent in the eight-state region who said they see climate change as a serious problem in 2019.
“Concern about climate change is rising pretty dramatically,” said Dave Metz, president of Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz and Associates, one of two firms that did the poll. “While it remains an issue where there are partisan distinctions … there have been increases across the board.”
The poll was conducted by Metz’s firm, which typically works with Democrats, and by New Bridge Strategy, which usually works with Republicans.
New Bridge Strategy’s Lori Weigel agreed with Metz that while climate change “often provokes a partisan response” that was reflected among Democrats, Republicans and independents in the poll, concern over the issue rose in every group.
“We have also seen an 8-point increase among Republicans and voters who are unaffiliated or independent,” when it comes to climate-change concerns, she said.
The telephone poll of 3,200 voters was conducted from Jan. 2-9 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.65 percent for the overall survey. The margin of error rose to plus or minus 4.9 percent for results in each state: Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.
Among the findings the survey said 65 percent of voters believe protection of public lands is more important than using them for energy production of natural resources, and 75 percent see the rollback of environmental laws as a serious problem.
Specifically, two-thirds disagreed with the reduction of national monuments, like the Trump administration’s to reduce Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, and 60 percent looked poorly on the reversal of the Waters of the U.S. rule, an Obama-era regulation that had greatly increased waterways subject to federal oversight.
Arizona members of the Congressional Western Caucus, which believes in mineral development on federal land and wants to reduce the amount of public lands in federal hands, did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the poll’s findings.
But an attorney with the Pacific Legal Foundation, which advocates for market-based solutions to environmental problems, defended the rollback of some regulations. Jonathan Wood said there are “many reforms that would result in better management of public lands and advance the conservation and recreation interests on these lands” through a market approach.
“For instance, federal regulations currently prohibit or discourage conservation groups from bidding for grazing or drilling rights on federal lands, with the intention of conserving those lands rather than using them,” Wood said in an email. “This regulation has led to unnecessary acrimony and frustrated market-based conservation.”
While he said voters should be concerned about climate change, Wood also questioned the survey’s finding that more than two-thirds think it is a serious problem. He pointed out that of the four possible answers respondents could choose for that question, three were varying degrees of serious, from “somewhat” to “extremely,” and only one was “not at all.”
Other findings were less surprising for voters in Western states. The poll said they were highly concerned about falling levels of water availability and rising numbers of wildfires. It said 36 percent of respondents thought changes in the climate were the biggest factor in wildfires, and 30 percent blamed drought.
It also said that 68 percent of voters – 64 percent in Arizona – would be willing to pay higher taxes to fund conservation efforts, with almost all respondents citing forest management and protection of waterways as top conservation priorities.
“There is a growing anxiety about a lack of resources for conservation,” Metz said. “Perhaps that’s why voters are supportive of raising additional revenue at the local level.”
While climate concerns were rising, the poll also found that the number of Arizonans who identify as “conservationists” fell 10 percentage points from last year.
Robert Fanger, a spokesman for the Hispanic Access Foundation, said Latinos’ views are in line with all of the findings of the survey and that they “overwhelmingly disagree with the actions and policies of the current administration’s energy-dominant agenda.”
Fanger, who was on the conference call for the release of the poll, called on policymakers pay attention to its findings.
“We just hope that those in Washington and in state government are paying attention,” he said. “We should not have to ask our elected officials to listen to their constituents.”
Story by ANDREW HOWARD, Cronkite News