Gallup has polled on the tension between environmentalism and energy demand for ten years, and for the first seven, green concerns trumped energy needs by wide margins in polling.  In fact, that trend sharply increased in 2007, before both a price spike in oil and then an economic collapse that doused the oil-price spike.  At that time, Americans prioritized environmental concerns 58/34, the largest gap in the series.

The global financial collapse and the worldwide recession changed all that.  Now, for the second year in a row, 50% of Americans prioritize energy over environmentalism, and the gap is increasing:

Americans, by a 50% to 41% margin, say the nation should prioritize the development of energy supplies over protecting the environment when the two goals are at odds. This reflects the continuation of a striking reversal of attitudes compared with those seen from 2001 through 2008, when Americans showed a clear preference for environmental protection.

Americans’ preference for development of U.S. energy supplies over environmental protection swelled from 34% in 2007 to 50% in March 2010 and held at that level in this year’s update of Gallup’s annual Environment survey, conducted March 3-6.

The good news for Greens is that two-thirds of Americans would still prefer to emphasize “alternative energy” sources such as wind and solar.  Given the choice between that and oil, coal, and natural gas, only 26% choose hydrocarbons, and another 6% want both pursued equally.  However, when it comes to increasing fossil fuel production and conservation, the Greens are now below 50% and within 7 points of the alternative, 48/41.  That’s down from 52/36 a year ago, and 61/29 in 2008 as the recession began and oil prices began spiking.

Moreover, Americans are taking the energy crisis more seriously than a year ago.  Overall, 92% of Americans take it very or fairly seriously, up from 87%, but the big change is in the “very serious” category.  That rose twelve points from 33% to 45%. Some of those were transfers from “fairly serious,” which went from 54% to 47%, but also from “not at all serious,” which declined from 11% to 7%.  Also, a year ago Americans were not inclined to think that the US would face a “critical energy shortage” in the next five years, with a 45/51 result.  Now six in ten Americans believe we will, 61/36, a remarkable turnaround in a single year.

The longer this administration dithers on domestic production of energy, including on oil, natural gas, and coal, the more political risk they assume.  With prices rising fast on food and gasoline, that pressure will come to a head quickly.  Will Obama act, or will he putt out?

Tags: Barack Obama