Russia’s assault on Ukraine has lifted gas prices near record levels, reflecting Western sanctions on the world’s third-largest oil producer.
Meanwhile, an ice shelf just disintegrated in Antarctica, and the Great Barrier Reef is suffering mass bleaching caused by record temperatures.
Those are some of the key issues at the heart of the energy debate in the U.S. And when asked to choose between prioritizing the development of domestic oil, gas and coal energy supplies or protecting the environment, Americans are starkly divided along political lines, according to polling data from Gallup released Wednesday
Republicans by more than a four-to-one margin would prioritize the development of U.S. energy supplies over environmental protection. Democrats, by an equally large margin, are on the opposite end.
The poll surveyed 1,017 adults between March 1 and March 18. Respondents lived in all 50 states and Washington D.C.
When the survey was conducted, gas prices were above $4 a gallon across the country. Prices at the pump jumped after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February shocked global energy markets.
“Concern about energy has increased significantly in the past year, and it is likely tied to higher gas prices as we have seen in the past,” Jeff Jones, a senior editor at Gallup who authored the report, told CNBC.
Some 47% of survey respondents worry a “great deal” about energy availability and affordability, up from 37% a year ago and 22% in 2020. Another 30% of Americans said they worry “a fair amount” about the availability and affordability.
Taken together, 77% of Americans are worried about prices, the poll found.
At the same time, the need to quickly and dramatically transition away from fossil fuels is becoming more apparent by the day.
In March, an ice shelf in East Antarctica, which has been considered the stable portion of the continent, collapsed. And the mass bleaching that’s occurring at the Great Barrier Reef make the corals more vulnerable to starvation and disease.
Hurricane and fire season in the U.S. are just months away, and damage caused by weather-related disasters continues to worsen. Last year was the third most active Atlantic hurricane season on record, while an unprecedented heat wave passed through much of the Pacific Northwest.
“Coal and other fossil fuels are choking humanity,” Antonio Guterres, secretary-general of the United Nations, said at the end of February, when the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was released.
Broadly, Americans are split when it comes to prioritizing environmental protection (50%) or energy production (46%). The gap has narrowed amid the surge in gas prices.
“People generally favor environmental protection, and still do, but they adjust that preference depending on the prevailing energy situation,” Jones said.
The split breaks down clearly along partisan lines.
Among Republicans, 78% say they prioritize energy production, compared to only 17% of Democrats. Those numbers are reversed when it comes to protecting the environment, which is favored by 78% of Democrats and 17% of Republicans.
“Their basic priorities remain the same,” Jones said. “Republicans for energy production and Democrats for environmental protection.”
The Biden administration of late has been trying to take the middle road, increasing oil production in the short term and focusing on clean energy for the future.
“We’re serious about decarbonizing while providing reliable energy that doesn’t depend on foreign adversaries,” Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm said told energy executives in Houston earlier this month. “That means we’ll walk and chew gum at the same time.”
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