What politicians really care about: Polls!

Americans have surprisingly complex attitudes toward both the environment and energy policy, so I always lament when I see polls that ask the extremely simplistic question: Which do you support - Energy/Economic Growth vs. Environment Protection? As if everytime a wetland habitat is destroyed / saved, the nation's GDP goes up or down accordingly. Or that all economic activity is not in some part dependent on a fully functioning eco-system that produces the food we eat, the water we drink, the air that we breathe and the open green spaces that we enjoy. But it is a general indicator of the types of trade-offs people are willing to make to get their energy fix.

A recent poll by the Pew Center of 1,523 Americans, conducted Sept. 8-11 shows that when given a choice between protecting the environment OR developing new sources of energy, 57% of Americans choose energy in September 2005 versus 49% in March 2005, while protecting the environment has declined from 42% to 36%. The recent run-up in energy prices, particularly at the pump has caused many Americans to support new energy projects, despite the potential for environmental damage. The percentage of Americans favoring drilling in ANWR has increased from 42% to 50%, with the strongest increases coming from Democrats and Independents.

However, the poll also showed a willingness by Americans to support a wide range of energy efficiency ideas and a decidedly negative opinion of nuclear power:

The public overwhelmingly supports government efforts to require better fuel efficiency from cars, trucks and SUVs. Fully 86% favor the government requiring improved efficiency; there is virtually no partisan difference on this issue. Sizable but smaller majorities back several other possible policies to address the energy situation, including tax breaks alternative energy, more funding of mass transit, but also (more concerningly for price controls on fuel and energy (69%). But despite growing concern over energy supplies and prices, most Americans oppose the government promoting the increased use of nuclear power (53%).

As "Citizens for Sustainable Living" who are aware of peak oil, we need to take advantage of the public's current openness to new alternative sources of energy and willingness to increase use of more efficient means of transportation to promote policy solutions that help the economy through lower energy costs and help protect the environment and reduce our dependence on the Middle East - Win, Win, Win!

We also need to educate the public about why energy subsidies for oil and gas are bad economic/fiscal, environmental and security policies. We also need to reframe the energy/economy vs environmental debate to be more Win-Win and less of a zero sum game.


This American belief in contradictory things and demand for the impossible is not new.


most Americans oppose the government promoting the increased use of nuclear power (53%)

When the time comes, that opposition will be eliminated using the same strategy that is working so well for ANWR. Have some high-profile blackouts due to "fuel shortages" etc. Put the fear into the consumer, and the numbers in favor of nuclear will shoot up just like the numbers in favor of drilling ANWR did.

To see what really impacts a politician's approval ratings, here is a chart of Bush Approval ratings and the gasoline price index
excellent graph. I totally forgot that gas prices temporarily went down after 9/11. So what happens when gas prices get to $4? Impeachment? Oh wait that only happens if you are a really popular president and have who lies about having sex with another woman.
For more polls from the recent post-Katrina era, see The Polling Report
I've been trying to figure out why I feel so curmudgeonly lately, and so ready to disdain optimists. I think it is an aftershock to the whole Katrina episode. I worry that energy policy is to energy, as disaster policy is to disasters.

Both the response to Katrina, and the response to the response, have shown "American governance" in a pretty bad light.

These polls reinforce that feeling.  In this day and age, we've still got people blaming the producers for their own "need."  (OPEC has apparently done some good PR to get "domestic producers" higher on the "blame" list.)

Now things might slowly evolve, and the public might be willing to take on a little more repsonsibility for ... [what am I saying, turns off computer, leaves room]

I wonder if wel'll ever live to the day to see the following question in a poll: "Do you support introducing a gas tax that will finance developing alternatives?"
I suppose - never, because everyone knows what the answer will be. Which makes me very suspicious about the ability of "democracy as we know it" to solve problems requiring unpopular measures. Well we have the Roosvelt and Chirchil examples when WWII struck - but then the problem was apparent and people were easy to convince. That's why I think if we have any chance for the future is to make the problem apparent now. Well... I don't know, you may think I'm a crazy dreamer :) But I do believe that if some terrorist group finds a way to take out Ghawar for several months, this could be the greatest favour for our children someone has ever done.
I had a thought like that right after Katrina, "hm, what if Bush said, I'm not going to let our refineries get back-online, you'll just have to do without", and bam, consumption's down by 20%, but that would have catastrophic effects in the shorterm outweighing the minimal longterm sacrifices neccessary to achieve the same effect.
I am also a gloomy curmudgeon.  We need a depression NOW to strangle demand so that the environment won't get trashed pursuant to an oil crisis.
4 words: "Molten Salt Breeder Reactor." Nukes can be fun!