American Elephants

What do Americans know about energy and the environment? by The Elephant's Child

What do Americans believe about energy and the environment?  The Manhattan Institute undertook a poll, with the help of Zogby, to find out with a survey in January of 2009 of 1,000 Americans, chosen to be representative of public opinion generally.  Some examples:

  • 49 percent of respondents believe that Saudia Arabia exports the most oil to the U.S., while only 13 percent correctly identified Canada as our major supplier.  Only 16.1 percent of our imports came from the Persian Gulf region.
  • More than 67 percent believe that we can meet future energy demand through conservation and efficiency.  Historically, energy demand increases with efficiency gains.  The Energy Information Administration projects U.S. energy use to increase 11.2 percent from 2007 to 2030, while global energy consumption will increase by 50 percent.
  • Only 37 percent correctly answered that no one has ever died from the actual generation of nuclear power in the U.S.  The U.S. has not built a nuclear -power reactor since the meltdown at Three Mile Island in 1979, 104 active reactors safely generate roughly one fifth of our nations electricity.
  • 63 percent of those surveyed believe that human activity is the greatest source of greenhouse gases.  In fact, such emissions are significantly  smaller than natural emissions.  Most of the CO2 that enters the atmosphere comes from the oceans and the biosphere — 41.46 and 55.28 percent respectively.  The burning of fossil fuels accounts for only 3.27 percent  of the carbon dioxide that enters the atmosphere.
  • Fewer than 28 percent believe that U.S. air quality has improved since 1970.  The six most common pollutants have decreased by more than 50 percent.  Air toxins from large industrial sources have fallen by nearly 70 percent, and new cars are more than 90 percent cleaner.  During the same period, GDP tripled, energy consumption increased 50 percent and motor vehicle use increased almost 200 percent.

Offshore oil drilling can be accomplished in an environmentally sensitive manner.  Spent nuclear fuel can be stored safely. 91 percent of our electricity is generated by fossil fuels and uranium.  Renewables will not soon make any significant dent in that.


6 Comments so far
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I am a big fan of the stats, but disagree with the conclusions. The numbers underscore the necessity for the need to educate Americans more about energy and sustainable roads for its future production and consumption. Ignorance is one of the largest barriers to progress and of it Americans have no shortage.

However, I think these things point to why sustainable energy production is so dire and why coal, oil and nuclear are not really the answers.

– Whether or not one is a global warming proponent/believer, coal power production is the largest source of air pollution in our country. (Not counting the effects of its mining or shipping)

– Offshore drilling, is expensive and would not produce a drop of refined crude for over a decade.

– New estimates for the cost of nuclear plants are as high as 6 times that of new wind turbines with the added benefit of creating some of the most hazardous substances known to man.

Have some faith. Cleaner power sources will make the dent that we want them to.


Comment by T. Caine

I’m afraid you’re mistaken. Scroll down to “Renewable Energy is Bunk” for the explanation. The Supreme Court was stupidly mistaken when they said that CO2 could be regulated as a pollutant. It is not. It is essential to life, it is what you exhale and a natural fertilizer for plants. The CO2 in the atmosphere is only a trace gas, and not the cause of such global warming as there has been.

The amount of the CO2 in the atmosphere that is derived from human causes is almost too small to be measured. The CO2 in the atmosphere arises from the oceans, and there isn’t anything we can do about it. But since the planet is cooling, it really isn’t necessary to do anything. There has been far more CO2 in the atmosphere in the past. We are at a fairly low point, and more would be better.


Comment by The Elephant's Child

T. Caine,

You might be interested in a brand new study that shows pollution actually helps plants fight climate change.

Looks like environmentalists are going to have to choose between fighting pollution, and fighting climate change, because the former will exacerbate the latter.


Comment by American Elephant

Elephant’s Child, the figures I have seen say that we have approximately 20 billion tons of CO2 released into the air every year. The trees in the world (all trees everywhere) absorb 2. The oceans absorb 8. (some say more, some say less, but across the board oceans absorb more CO2 than they emit)

Some minimum estimates for emissions from coal power plants of the US, China and India by 2012 are total production of 1.23 billion tons with a high estimate of 2.69 billion. That is far from a trace amount.

American Elephant, interesting study. I would agree that it seems amazingly counter-intuitive and contrary to the findings of other scientists but it is not my area of expertise so I cannot say they are wrong.


Comment by T. Caine

T.Caine, I would recommend that you go to the website CO2 Science. The Drs. Idso have been studying the science of carbon dioxide for years, and you can find scads of good information and any number of papers to print out. Also, the Science and Public Policy Institute has excellent material. Scroll down to the “SPPI Monthly CO2 Report for March” by Christopher Monckton. On the right side of the screen, you will see a small fuchsia/purple box labeled “Climate Change is CO2 the Cause” by Professor Bob Carter. Click on that and you will get some explanatory videos. If you want more information, come back and I will recommend other resources.


Comment by The Elephant's Child

While taking into account that these are a handful of scientists out of hundreds of thousands, I will most certainly take a look at it. My thanks for the sources.

I thought you guys would get a kick out of this, if you haven’t already seen it. An article/study that says while CO2 may trap heat closer to the surface, it may make the upper stratosphere cooler… which repairs the ozone layer faster. Seeming in line with American Elephants ‘tough choices’ stance.


Comment by T. Caine

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