With high gas prices this summer, a bitter political debate erupted regarding drilling for oil and gas in offshore areas in order to increase the supply of gasoline and lower prices at the pump.
Since climate change is inextricably tied to how we generate and use energy, it's worth briefly exploring the following question: What does it say about the public's support for reducing greenhouse gas emissions when high gas prices can push climate issues onto the back burner to such an extent that a majority of the country now supports drilling for more oil and gas, which will only lead to more emissions?
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At first glance the drilling debate would seem to fit other indications that support for taking action on climate change is broad but shallow, and that climate change concerns are no match for traditional pocketbook issues when it comes to getting to the top of the national political agenda.
However, as a recent article in the Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media points out, the public opinion data on drilling is more nuanced than is often reported. Pollsters, the Yale article states, don't always frame their questions on drilling in a way that allows people to state where drilling falls on their list of energy priorities. When respondents are given the opportunity to weigh drilling against pursuing alternative energy technologies, the alternatives may actually come out ahead.
"It's a rough reality check for the climate change movement: the American public increasingly seems willing to walk -- or drive -- away from climate change concerns, as high gas prices trump principle," the article states. "But as with all polls, the framing is paramount and the media's interpretation crucial."
For example, a recent Quinnipiac University poll found that when asked to weigh several energy priorities, a majority of likely voters in the battleground states of Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania chose developing alternative energy sources as the "best way to help solve the energy crisis and make America less dependent on foreign oil." In Ohio, 57 percent of likely voters said renewables are the best option, compared to 20 percent who favored drilling as their top choice.
However, when asked about drilling independently of their views on the broader energy portfolio, a significant majority of likely voters in all three states said they support offshore drilling.