Believing that prudent policies require a well-informed citizenry—one well versed in the facts—a survey research conducted by Zogby Associates, to determine what Americans believe about energy and environmental issues and the extent of their knowledge has been released.
Building on similar research from 2006, the second edition reports the January 2009 responses of 1,000 Americans, chosen to be representative of public opinion generally, on matters such as the sources energy, the extent of the oil supply, the rate of global warming, the safety of nuclear power, and the promise of renewable energy sources.
The survey found that the views that many Americans hold about a wide range of these issues remain, in key ways, inaccurate. For example:
• Forty-nine percent of respondents believe Saudi Arabia exports the most oil to the U.S., while just 13% correctly identified Canada as our top foreign supplier. According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), the U.S. imported 58.2% of its petroleum (including crude oil) in 2007, but only 16.1% of all imports came from Persian Gulf countries.
• More than 67% believe we can meet future energy demand through conservation and efficiency. Historically, in contrast, energy demand actually increases alongside efficiency gains. And because energy use is not static, conservation leads to only marginal reductions in demand. the EIA projects global energy consumption to increase 50% from 2005 to 2030 and U.S. energy use to increase 11.2% from 2007 to 2030.
• Just 37% correctly answered that no one has ever died from the actual generation of nuclear power in the U.S. though the U.S. has not built a nuclear-power reactor since the nuclear meltdown at three Mile Island in 1979, 104 active reactors safely generate roughly one-fifth of our nation’s electricity.
• Sixty-three percent of those surveyed believe that human activity is the greatest source of green- house gases. In fact, such emissions are significantly smaller than natural emissions. the burning of fossil fuels is responsible for just 3.27% of the carbon dioxide that enters the atmosphere each year, while the biosphere and oceans account for 55.28% and 41.46%, respectively.
• Less than 28% correctly believe that U.S. air quality has improved since 1970. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the six most common air pollutants have decreased by more than 50%; air toxins from large industrial sources have fallen nearly 70%; new cars are more than 90% cleaner, in terms of their emissions; and production of most ozone-depleting chemicals has ceased. These reductions have occurred despite the fact that during the same period, gross domestic product tripled, energy consumption increased 50%, and motor vehicle use increased almost 200%.
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