Commentary by James H. Shott
A Gallup poll in March reflected that Americans believe the nation should prioritize the development of energy supplies over protecting the environment when the two goals are at odds by a 50 to 41 percent margin. The survey included 1,021 adults 18 and older chosen by random-digital-dial sampling, with a 95-percent confidence level.
Most polls are just a snapshot in time, but this one reflects a four-year trend of attitude reversal.
In 2007, the segment that preferred protecting the environment even if it meant limiting energy production measured 58 percent of the sample, against 34 percent, and that percentage has been falling ever since, to 50 percent in 2008, then 47 percent, then 43 percent and now 41 percent.
Their strong preference for conservation of energy supplies over increased production has likewise fallen, from 64 percent pro-conservation and 26 percent pro-production, to 48 percent pro-conservation and 41 percent pro-production. However, the poll also showed a 66 to 26 percent preference for development of alternative energy over increased fossil fuel production over the longer term.
Boiling all of that down, it shows that Americans who participated in these polls over the last four years are pretty sensible people. They understand that current economic circumstances –stubbornly high unemployment, with no relief in sight, and GDP that is languishing at 0.4 percent in the first quarter of 2011, rising to 1.0 percent in the second quarter – require that the country stay with proven energy sources and increase domestic production at least until the economy recovers.
They realize that the country badly needs to create jobs and they understand that increasing domestic energy production will serve that purpose. Currently, there are substantial oil and gas resources that are off-limits, and the American Petroleum Institute believes that opening up access to them would increase both jobs and tax revenues, and has a study by Wood Mackenzie that backs that up. The study shows that 530,000 jobs and $150 billion in revenues would result by 2025 from loosening the restrictions on producing domestic energy. There is no impetus in the Obama administration to follow this course, however, and in fact it prefers heavy regulation, drilling bans and foot-dragging bureaucracy that have the opposite effect.
Most everyone understands that if we can meet our energy needs by burning less fossil fuel, we certainly should do so, a point reflected in the Gallup polling. However, for it to make any sense at all to change the balance between conventional and alternative sources, alternative energy must be economical and as effective as the fossil fuels it replaces. And that is where the problem with “green” energy lies.
That point is underscored by what happened in Texas during this summer’s heat wave, where the state’s wind turbines failed to perform adequately to combat the extreme heat. As explained by Robert Bryce, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, writing for National Review Online, “Texas has 10,135 megawatts of installed wind-generation capacity, which is nearly three times as much as any other state. And yet, on [August 24], all of the state’s wind turbines mustered just 880 megawatts of power when electricity was needed the most. Put another way, even though wind turbines account for about 10 percent of Texas’s 103,000 megawatts of summer electricity-generation capacity, wind energy was able to provide just 1.3 percent of the juice the state needed … to keep the lights on and the air conditioners humming.” Climate reality: When the temperature rises, the wind slows down.
However, there is a good bit of positive news around right now, such as The Wall Street Journal’s report that “the U.S. Geological Survey said that Cook Inlet [Alaska] likely holds about 19 trillion cubic feet of undiscovered, technically recoverable natural gas—nearly nine times more than the last estimates, made in 1995—as well as 600 million barrels of oil.” Since natural gas burns cleaner than coal or oil, this discovery makes it possible to reduce the use of dirtier-burning fuels.
And the British Broadcasting Company reports that scientists say that there was a mysterious decline in the growth of methane in the atmosphere in the last decades of the 20th Century, and that human activities are a factor in the positive change in the levels of what is regarded as one of the most potent greenhouse gases.
“Researchers writing in the journal Nature have come up with two widely differing theories as to the cause,” the BBC reported. “One suggests the decline was caused by greater commercial use of natural gas, the other that increased use in Asia of artificial fertilizer was responsible.” At a time when science, sometimes corrupt science, tells us mankind is killing the climate, here’s science telling us we have actually helped it.
The Gallup poll shows Americans believe we need to focus on developing alternative energy to replace fossil fuels, but they also believe that in the current economic situation we need to increase development of domestic energy supplies to lower prices, increase energy independence, and to put thousands of oil and gas workers back to work. If only the politicians could figure this out.
Cross-posted from Observations