Pacific Swell | Southern California environment news and trends

Lies, damned lies, statistics, and the coast [UPDATED]

Over at LA Observed, Kevin Roderick points out that Jerry Brown is governor because he won the coast. (Official state results here, you can mouse over each county to get results.)


I looked at this and I was reminded of something we had talked about briefly at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute fellowship I did a few years back. And which we talk about all the time now in the context of the South Coast implementation of the Marine Life Protection Act. California's population is densest at the coast. Here's a map from the US Geological Survey, based on 2000 census numbers:

So, I'm guessing it makes sense that you have to win at the coast because that's where the people are.

It's not just California: according to a NOAA report released 5 years ago, 23 of the 25 most densely populated counties in the country were coastal. 53% of Americans lived (in 2003) at the coast - 153 million people, compared with 120 million Americans living at the coast in 1980. But California is really good at it: southern California counties made up 12 percent of that increase - 3.96 million people more moved to the Southland coast since 1980.

I was thinking you could see this divide in the environmentally related state propositions. To a certain extent you can: Proposition 21, the state parks initiative, would have added an $18 fee to your car registration - in exchange for which you'd get into state beaches and parks for free. So if you go to the beach twice a year, you might have found this worth it. But only Bay Area Californians came out for it:




Then there's Proposition 23. Sea level rise is an anticipated consequence of a warming planet. California even has plans in place for mitigating against that circumstance as it changes. Coastal and urban voters probably made a number of calculations in casting a ballot for or against suspension of AB 32, the state's landmark greenhouse gas law, while unemployment remains above 5.5%. It could have been global warming related, or economy related, or both, or neither. But only one coastal county - Orange County - voted to suspend AB 32.



We talk all the time about blue-red - the blue coast and the red central valley. But I wonder if the divide isn't equally well expressed as a coastal/inland one.

UPDATE: LAObsvd's Kevin Roderick requested a clarification via email about whether I agree with him. YES, I agree with him. That wasn't really my point - though righteously it's hard to tell. I was trying to link the population location to how people perceive their environmental values. It's surprising to me that in the part of the state where so many people drive to state beaches and pay to park, that didn't entice them to support Prop 21. As for Prop 23, some of what I'm interested in isn't contained in elex results: I'm more muse-y about whether people right along the coast have a higher awareness of environmental risks from climate change because there's a direct connection to property value (or indeed property existence) there.

In other words, the maps aren't telling me the whole story. There are lies, damned lies, and statistics, and then there are maps: fascinating; soothing; incomplete. (Incomplete, like this blog entry, originally: some sentences have gone missing, and I can't find them, hence, in part, this update.)

Also, NO connection to LAObsvd w/r/t lies was intended or implied.