Thursday, March 22, 2012

Public Opinion Poll on Energy Issues Shows How Clueless The Public Really Is

It really is true, as comedian Doug Stanhope has asserted, that a majority of Americans will express their opinion about an issue even when they have no basis of knowledge for which to even form an opinion. That point was driven home in a recent article from UPI entitled, “Poll: Alternative Energy Loses Support.” Why the pollsters even bother polling on an issue so technically complex that no more than a small percentage of the population is well informed enough to provide meaningful answers is a whole separate topic. Instead, I thought I would go through and pick the results of this particular poll apart point by point.

Let’s get started, shall we?
Support for development of fuel sources such as wind and solar power has diminished in the United States during the past year, a survey found.

The March 7-11 poll, conducted by the Pew Research Center for People & the Press, found 52 percent of those responding indicated support for alternative fuel was more important than increasing oil, coal and natural gas production, while 39 percent indicated expanding exploration of coal, oil and gas was the more important of the two choices.

Although a majority went for alternative fuels, support for solar, wind and hydrogen power was not as popular as it had been in March 2011, when 63 percent indicated that was their favorite choice, while 29 percent chose coal, oil and gas exploration.

Respondents who identified themselves as Republicans were more apt to have changed their preferences -- with 33 percent indicated support for alternative energy sources, down from 47 percent in 2011.
Do I really need to waste the pixels pointing out that asking people whether they “support” development of alternative energy versus whether they “support” increased oil, coal and natural gas production is laughably meaningless? The question makes it sound as if all forms of energy are interchangeable and unlimited, and how we power our lives is merely a matter of the choices we collectively make.

On the one hand, you can “support” solar and wind power all you want, but that doesn’t mean either form of energy will ever be a viable replacement for fossil fuels and enable you and your descendents to live your suburbanized, consumerist lifestyle in perpetuity. The fact is that while both do have their uses and COULD be a part of voluntarily powered down future if America was willing to be sensible about its energy predicament, neither is going to allow us to continue on with business as usual once fossil fuels deplete to the point where they are too expensive to keep supporting our modern industrialized civilization.

On the flip side, you can “support” increasing the production of oil, coal and natural gas; and while you are at it you might as well try holding your breath until Santa Claus brings you a new Lexus for Christmas. The world supply of all three is FINITE. That means there is only so much of it that can EVER be produced. What’s more, most of the easy and cheap to extract stuff is already gone and what’s left is going to be ever more costly and difficult to produce. Child-like wishing for more isn’t going to change geology.

Let's move on:
The survey found "as in the past ... there continues to be broad public support for an array of policies aimed at addressing the nation's energy supply."

Nearly 80 percent overall indicated support for improving fuel efficiency in cars, while nearly 70 percent indicated support for federal research for alternative energy sources. Sixty-five percent indicated support for improved rail, bus and subway systems.
Sure, no doubt there is “broad public support” for all of that stuff. You know why? Because it doesn’t cost the respondents anything to answer the questions in a public opinion survey.

Once you start moving beyond feel good concepts and into how all of those policies are going to be PAID FOR it becomes a different equation altogether. Try asking, “Would you be willing to pay an annual $1,000 carbon tax to support the federal research for alternative energy sources and for improved rail, bus and subway systems?” or “Should federal government funds be used for public transportation INSTEAD OF building more roads and highways?” and I’ll guarantee you the poll results would be drastically different.

Once again, the choices are presented in a vacuum, as if each one does not carry considerable costs and consequences. This is exactly the kind of thinking that created Spoiled Rotten Nation, and a citizenry that just cannot understand how the government can’t seem to do everything they want it to do without raising their taxes and/or running massive budget deficits. We want alternative energy research, AND public transportation, AND more roads and highways to reduce traffic congestion, BUT we don’t want to pay for any of it.

But they saved the very best part for last:
Concerning the controversial method of mining called fracking, 37 percent indicated they have only heard a little about it and 37 percent, indicated they have never heard of it. Only 25 percent indicated they had heard a lot about it.

A majority -- 52 percent -- indicated support for fracking, a figure held up mostly by Republicans, 73 percent of whom indicated they supported fracking, compared to 33 percent of Democrats.
You gotta love the willingness of so many to support something they know very little or nothing about. Despite the fact that only a quarter of the population has by its own admission any real idea what fracking is, more than half claim to support it. And that 25% constituting the at least reasonably well informed doesn’t include people like me who know a lot about fracking but are opposed to it because we know what the dangers are. The more appropriate question to ask here would be, “Would you support fracking even if it meant there was a good chance that your drinking water might be poisoned or that a resulting earthquake might damage your home?” That at least might get a few of the respondents thinking, yet another resource which is in very short supply these days.

Bonus: I've posted this video before, but it is too funny not to repeat


  1. Isn't Doug Stanhope fantastic. How retarded is it asking ordinary people to access the risk of another terrorist attack. Unless you are a member of Al Qaeda or a intelligence service operative how would you know.


    The reality is people deliver an opinion BEFORE they have any information is a SHAMEFUL ignorance.. why don't people want information before forming an opinion? I don't get it. I truly don't. How CAN you form an opinion on something without knowledge? It is IMPOSSIBLE.

    The culture of 'pretending to understand' something by covering it up with a 'fake choice' is freaking scary. explains a lot.

  3. Are you more disgusted with the public or with the pollsters?

    1. Both equally. A pox on everybody's house who refuses to acknowledge the reality that the impending energy crisis is the most dire predicament the country has ever faced.

  4. It always seems so incredibly stupid to me that people are unwilling to even try to conserve fuel. Every gallon of gas you don't burn today is one that will be available later. Americans seem to insist on being deliberately obtuse, defiantly wasting energy on completely unnecessary activities.

    I don't know about the energy crisis being the most dire predicament though. Until very recently, I thought ecosystem collapse (famine) was going to set mass extinctions in motion before an energy crisis or climate change (or social chaos/war from either).

    Lately though, I'm thinking we are going to fry from global warming, really soon. Maybe this summer. We have certainly passed tipping points, the only questions are, how this is going to play out in local terms. Suffocating heat and drought? Seismic activity? Methane clathrate explosions? Violent tornados/hurricanes/floods? We've seen some of all that already, except the methane explosions although Arctic experts have declared an emergency, and it's all predicted to get unimaginably worse.

    1. Gail - I still think the energy crisis will turn dire before climate change or ecosystem collapse does, but who knows? You may yet be proven right. Other than trying to identify and explain trends, I would hardly put myself forward as a fortune teller for the future.

    2. Yes, it's a race between converging catastrophes, and aren't we lucky to have ringside seats at the finish line?

    3. Great post Bill, you're absolutely right.

  5. Stanhope is one of those guys, like Joe Rogan, who are just about smart enough to be really funny. The funny part of him being on the BBC is that they are taking the piss. They're not laugh with him, they're laughing AT him.