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Yale Survey: Imported Oil is a Serious Problem and Increased Fuel Efficiency Standards a Top Solution

A new Yale University research survey reveals that Americans overwhelmingly believe that the United States is too dependent on imported oil. The survey of 1,000 adults nationwide shows a vast majority of the public also wants to see government action to develop new “clean” energy sources, including solar and wind power as well as hydrogen cars.

Conducted on behalf of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, the survey found that fully 92% say dependence on imported oil is a serious problem, with 68 percent saying it is a very serious problem.

Results of the poll, which covers a number of other environmental issues, indicate that 93% of Americans see requiring the auto industry to make cars that get better gas mileage is a good idea to address the issue of oil dependence. Just 6 percent say it is a bad idea.

This sentiment varies little by political leaning, with 96% of Democrats and Independents and 86%  of Republicans supporting the call for more fuel-efficient vehicles. (And 90% of SUV owners.)

These findings come on the heels of Congress’ rejection of a proposal to require sport utility vehicles and minivans to become more fuel-efficient and achieve the same gasoline mileage as passenger cars. (Earlier post)

This poll suggests that Washington is out of touch with the American people. Republicans, Democrats and Independents, young and old, men and women—even SUV drivers—embrace investments in new energy technologies, including better gas mileage in vehicles

—Dan Esty, director of the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy

(Click on charts below to enlarge.)

Yale1 Yale2

The poll also what indicates what people do not want to see as solutions. Least favored were taxes— a mileage tax, a carbon pollution tax  and an increased gas tax all vied for last place.

Interestingly, only 36% thought opening up ANWR for drilling was a good or very good idea.

A survey can be statistically valid and still misleading about what people might actually do. (Exit polls, anyone?) The Yale survey highlights the broad awareness of a problem, but also highlights confusion around what to do about it, or whom to believe as a source of information.

Nevertheless, as noted by Gus Speth, dean of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies:

This poll underscores the fact that Americans want not only energy independence but also to find ways to break the linkage between energy use and environmental harm, from local air pollution to global warming.

The survey was conducted by Global Strategy Group from May 15 to 22, 2005, using professional phone interviewers. The nationwide sample was drawn from a random digit dial (RDD) process. Respondents were screened on the basis of age, i.e., to be over the age of 18. The survey has an overall margin of error of ±3.1% at the 95% confidence level.


(A hat-tip to Robert B.!)


richard schumacher

A complication for those who want to extract policy goals from these results is that some of the measures in the questions have little directly to do with reducing oil consumption. For example not much oil is burned any more to generate electricity, so the questions on nuclear, wind, Solar, and hydro power, etc. indicate a general concern with the environment rather than oil consumption specifically.

Assuming that these results reflect what people are truly willing to have done, the challenge to policy makers is to:
1) implement the popular items that actually will reduce oil consumption and/or improve the environment (e.g., increase fuel economy requirements), and
2) implement as many of the helpful but unpopular items as people will tolerate (nuclear, carbon tax, etc.), while
3) wasting little time and resources on popular items that won't help much (hydrogen, hydropower), and
4) resisting the unpopular and unhelpful stuff which only serves a narrow political interest (drilling in ANWR).


That’s an excellent summary of the challenge.

The results seem to imply that Americans want someone else to bear the burden of solving the problem. I.e., no increase in out-of-pocket costs (tax increases), no lowering of the speed limit.

But cars with better fuel economy? Sure. Really, if the choice is between two comparable cars, and one burns less fuel, who wouldn’t want the latter?

Given these results, a worthwhile line of questioning (and if I were an automaker, I’d be having my pollsters working on it now) would be the degree to which buyers would pay more, or accept less in terms of performance, to achieve the greater fuel efficiencies.


I'm convinced that American automakers are not interested in building what the American consumer wants. What they want to do is build what they wish American consumers want.

If wishes were wings ...


One optimistic way to look at this is that, while we love our cars, we accept all sorts of regulation. It's a crime to remove smog equipment, or to drive 150 mph. Maybe people are reasonable enough to understand the trade-offs for fuel economy, and are ready to regulate their choices, through the car companies.

On the other hand, there could be a lot of denial. They could just be "voting" as you say, for the same cars, but with "magically" higher fuel economy.

I was making a prediction on my blog this morning that the existing, known, transportation technoliges won't be improved by more than 100% fron current best-of-breeds. I think that is a reasonable guess, based on the last century of progress, but ... to put it rudely: most people still believe in 200 mpg carborators.


Hm. the chart says that about 90% think solar power or wind will help, but only 3% of our electricity is made from oil!! 'It's the gasoline, stupid.': "Two thirds of U.S. oil consumption is due to the transportation sector." (scroll to the "Did you know?" part)


Gengis - true, but there are those folks who use heating oil ... don't know to what extent solar/wind can help them.


Solar and wind could help people who heat with oil by displacing demand for heat; I blogged about this back in March.

If people who heat with oil could get a plug-in hybrid car, they could cogenerate with their "motor" fuel.  If the cogenerator was e.g. a diesel running at 30% efficiency compared to the typical car's 17%, they could generate all their heat and run the car on less fuel than it took to run their previous car alone.

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