Academics & Faculty

Walking the green talk: Wealthier communities buy more hybrid vehicles

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Residents of wealthier communities and communities that vote pro-environment positions on statewide environmental initiatives are far more likely than other California residents to own hybrid vehicles, according to new research from the UCLA Institute of the Environment.
 
"There is clear evidence that environmentalists are voting their pocketbook on environmental products," said Matthew E. Kahn, a UCLA professor and co-director of the institute’s Center for Corporate Environmental Performance.
 
While unsurprising, the results provide new measures of which communities in the state are "walking the green talk," Kahn said. He argued that such benchmarks are critical to the success of California's efforts to develop strategies to limit vehicle emissions and implement a range of policies to address global warming.
 
"There's a lot of talk about environmental sensitivity and going green, but what we really need is much more data to provide benchmarks and start evaluating how communities are really performing," Kahn said. "Benchmarks will spur healthy competition among communities to see which can be greenest."
 
Kahn — an environmental economist with appointments in both the public policy and economics departments — gathered 2007 vehicle registration data for every zip code in California. He then correlated that with 2000 data on median household incomes, as well Green Party voter registration data and how regions voted on two statewide environmental initiatives.
 
The results show:
 
  • 1.74 percent of vehicles in San Francisco–area counties are low-emission hybrids, far higher than the statewide average of 0.77 percent. That's also far higher than equally wealthy areas of greater Los Angeles and greater San Diego.
 
  • In Los Angeles County, the five cities with the greatest percentage of hybrids among all registered vehicles were Santa Monica (3.03 percent), Malibu (3.01 percent), Manhattan Beach (2.75 percent), Commerce (2.67 percent) and Rolling Hills (2.66 percent). The countywide average was 0.77 percent.
 
  • In Orange County, the five cities with the greatest percentage of hybrids among all registered vehicles were Laguna Beach (2.33 percent), Seal Beach (1.59 percent), Newport Beach (1.56 percent), Irvine (1.27 percent) and Los Alamitos (1.25 percent). The countywide average was 0.74 percent.
 
  • The 94707 zip code near UC Berkeley had a whopping 5.24 percent hybrid vehicle share, six times larger than the 0.88 percent share for the 90024 zip code near UCLA.
 
The findings were published March 21 in the quarterly UCLA Institute of the Environment Southern California Environmental Report Card. The institute's signature publication is intended to analyze data in a format useful to the general public and policymakers and to stimulate debate on policies aimed at environmental protection.
 
The research also is due to be published this month in the peer-reviewed Berkeley Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy.
 
Kahn said the California Air Resources Board and other state agencies responsible for monitoring environmental issues have underinvested in data collection, so he assigned a report card grade of "incomplete."
 
"To earn an 'A,' the state needs to create representative data sets that provide detailed information on household and business energy consumption," Kahn said. "Without such information, we cannot measure how Californians respond to incentives to increase their energy efficiency and we cannot rank different cities on their progress in achieving the ambitious goals of California's environmental legislation."
 
Kahn noted that the Center for Corporate Environmental Performance at the UCLA Institute of the Environment seeks to work with local governments and the private sector to encourage the development and diffusion of environmentally sensitive products that help reduce the state's carbon footprint.
 
The UCLA Institute of the Environment, founded in 1997, seeks to generate knowledge and provide solutions for regional and global environmental problems and to educate the next generation of professional leaders committed to the health of the planet. The institute includes faculty from multiple academic divisions and professional schools, such as public health, engineering, management, atmospheric sciences, ecology and evolutionary biology, law, and urban planning. Through the institute and six academic departments, UCLA began offering an innovative multidisciplinary major in environmental science in the fall of 2006.
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