It is a coincidence. A new Gallup poll says Americans are more interested in an increase and diversification of energy output than they are concerned about the environmental consequences of these actions.
“Americans, by a 50% to 41% margin, say the nation should prioritize the development of energy supplies over protecting the environment when the two goals are at odds. This reflects the continuation of a striking reversal of attitudes compared with those seen from 2001 through 2008, when Americans showed a clear preference for environmental protection.”
Gallup notes that the results may be largely due to an increase in gas prices. They also come as nuclear energy use may be curtailed and Middle East turmoil may drive oil prices over $100 per barrel for a long time.
The poll was taken before the Japanese reactor catastrophe, so it leaves open the question of how people would answer the questions about diversification now. The Administration has backed nuclear energy as one means to make the US less dependent on foreign oil. Obama has not backed away from that position, although inspections of US nuclear facilities and a tough debate over the future of reactors in America may make the building of new reactors impossible. US nuclear plants may not sit on fault lines or near areas where they could be swamped by the ocean. There are other incidents which could cause a reactor disaster which range from human error to terrorist activity.
The poll’s results reverse a trend which has gone on for many years, Gallup says. Americans have cast aside some of their worry about the impact energy production will have on the environment even though the Gulf leak happened less than a year ago. The survey shows that Americans look at their wallets before they look at oil slicks. That is not really a shock when middle class families face tightening budgets in a period in which many think the recession has not ended.
Gallup will take its poll on the subject again a year from now. The problem in Japan may be over and may have been resolved without a catastrophe. Gas prices could be over $4 in a year. If so, the results of the survey are likely to be the same.
Methodology: Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted March 3-6, 2011, with a random sample of 1,021 adults, aged 18 and older, living in the continental U.S., selected using random-digit-dial sampling.
Douglas A. McIntyre