The Problem with the Pew Poll

Sheryl CanterThis post is by Sheryl Canter, an online writer and editorial manager at Environmental Defense Fund.

According to a poll conducted in June by the Pew Research Center, soaring gas prices have caused a significant shift in American attitudes in just four months. American priorities, they say, have shifted strongly towards energy exploration and drilling, and away from conservation.

Is environmentalism dead, or is this result mainly due to how Pew framed the survey questions? I think the latter.

Take, for example, this question:

Right now, which ONE of the following do you think should be a more important priority for this country:

Protecting the environment


Developing new sources of energy

The question implies that you have to make a choice – that it’s one or the other. But this isn’t so — it’s possible to do both. What if the options were develop clean energy or develop dirty energy? The results would have been quite different.

The second question in the Pew poll had a similar problem:

Right now, which ONE of the following do you think should be the more important priority for U.S. energy policy:

Expanding exploration, mining and drilling, and the construction of new power plants


More energy conservation and regulation on energy use and prices

That’s like asking people whether they’d prefer to eat disgusting food or go hungry. Those are hardly the only options! What if the choices were drill for oil or get the electric car on the road? Again, the results would have been quite different.

Pew’s inartfully worded poll tells us that Americans are feeling squeezed, for sure, but little more.

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  1. fred1
    Posted July 3, 2008 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

    you fail to mention the difficulties of getting the electric car on the road….

    the answer of course is less government regulation

    open up the Continental shelf, open up ANWAR, allow for more refineries to be built, allow more nuclear power plants to be built, allow the free market to determine the best alternative energy combination….solar, wind, etc.

    build more coal fired plants….coal is a plentiful resources…make the plants clean in terms of minimal pollution. i don’t count CO2 as pollution since it is a naturally occuring gas in the atmosphere,

    less regulation is the only way to maximize the future of world and to keep us from moving back into the 19th century.

  2. crowe
    Posted July 8, 2008 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    there is a flaw in your logic here “i don’t count CO2 as pollution since it is a naturally occuring gas in the atmosphere”. My dictionary defines pollution as:

    “the presence in or introduction into the environment of a substance or thing that has harmful or poisonous effects”

    the statement “harmful or poisonous” says nothing about weather it is “naturally occuring”. In the case of CO2, as well as many pollutants, it is a question of the concentration of the pollutant.

    It is true that most pollutants cause direct harm do to a chemical or biological reaction, and that the concentration of CO2 is not high enough to be a problem directly.

    Even so, the indirect effects CO2 does have on the earth’s climate are real and legally binding based on the Supreme Courts ruling regarding the Clean Air Act.

  3. Posted July 8, 2008 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

    >i don’t count CO2 as pollution since it is a naturally occuring gas in the atmosphere

    What’s funny about this (in a sad way) is that it’s exactly the argument that EPA tried to make to the Supreme Court in Massachusetts versus EPA. They lost.

    The Supreme Court ruled that greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide are “pollutants” under the Clean Air Act, and as such EPA has a legal obligation to regulate them (determine the danger to human health and the environment, etc.).

  4. joebhed
    Posted July 9, 2008 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    Actually, I think maybe Fred forgot that we DID have the electric car on the road.

    It wasn’t government regulation that scrapped it, but something called return-on-investment.

    Thanks General Motors.
    See the movie, Fred.

    And as to whether EPA considers GHGs as a pollutant, this from their recently leaked DRAFT nopr assessment:

    “1. What Is The Air Pollution?

    In applying the endangerment test in section 202(a) or other sections of the Act to GHG emissions, the Administrator must define the scope and nature of the relevant “air pollution” that may or may not be reasonably anticipated to endanger public health or welfare.

    The endangerment issue discussed in today’s notice involves, primarily, anthropogenic emissions of GHGs, the accumulation of GHGs in the atmosphere, the
    resultant impacts including climate change, and the risks and impacts to human health and welfare associated with those impacts”.

    Sounds like pollution to me.