Maybe it took an extended economic collapse for Americans to get practical about energy production.  It could also have some relation to the Climategate scandals and the collapse of credibility for anthropogenic global-warming advocates.  Either way, Gallup’s latest survey shows Americans prioritizing energy production over environmental concerns for the first time since Gallup began polling on the issue in 2001:

Americans are more likely to say the U.S. should prioritize development of energy supplies than to say it should prioritize protecting the environment, the first time more have favored energy production over environmental protection in this question’s 10-year history. …

The current data represent a continuing shift in opinion toward energy production. Since 2007, when Americans’ preferences for environmental protection were the greatest (58% to 34%), Americans’ opinions have shown significant movement each year in the direction of prioritizing energy production. This change has been evident among nearly every major demographic subgroup, although self-identified liberals have remained relatively steadfast in saying the environment should be a higher priority.

At the same time, Americans continue to advocate greater energy conservation by consumers (52%) over greater production of oil, gas, and coal supplies (36%) as a means of solving the nation’s energy problems. Americans have always come out in favor of greater consumer conservation, though this year marks the highest percentage favoring production (by a percentage point) in the last 10 years.

Interestingly, the change doesn’t come from crisis-mode thinking, at least not on energy supplies.  Two years ago, spiking gasoline prices inspired the “Drill Here, Drill Now” movement.  Today, though, only 34% of respondents think the energy-production situation in the US is “very serious,” a decline of eight points in a year.

Most likely, this comes from economic concerns.  The chart Gallup has on its site shows that support for prioritizing environmental restrictions over energy production peaked in 2007, just before the start of the recession.  Another poll earlier this month showed that respondents also prioritized economic expansion over environmental protection for the first time, and today’s chart shows that energy production has become more important as the economy worsened.  People understand that high energy prices retards growth, and that we need cheap energy to expand.

With this in mind, Barack Obama’s decision to drill in certain areas might be seen as a pre-emptive move to get ahead of this curve.  The poll also shows, though, that Republicans don’t need to support cap-and-trade in order to get better energy-production policies.  The public has grown up a bit in the last few years, something that adversity usually accomplishes.