Monday, April 21, 2008

People Starting to see the Light on Oil Supply

In a recent poll (just released on April 20, 2008) conducted in 16 nations collectively containing 58 percent of the world's population, a majority of the 14,896 poll respondents believe "that governments should assume that oil is running out". That is the good news. The bad news is that they also believe "it is necessary for governments to make a major effort to replace oil as a primary source of energy." "Only 22 percent on average believe that enough new oil will be found so that it can remain a primary source of energy for the foreseeable future.” according to the poll. There does not appear to be a belief, however - there were no questions in the poll by which one could get an accurate reading - that this is a cause to change our lifestyle. The onus in the questions as posed in the poll is on governments to find replacement energy sources to allow life to carry on as is, for business as usual. It is not clear whether this was predicated on a pre-existing belief that that would be the position of the majority of people. It does, however, limit the utility of the poll.

Although it is heartening that a significant majority of people polled (the number of poll respondents is too low to be statistically accurate) appear to now understand that global oil supplies are running out, it is very disheartening that they have not made the connection that this is going to require any changes on their part. That connection has to be made before there is any chance of a realistic move toward a post-fossil-fuel society. Small steps, nonetheless, are better than no steps at all.

According to Steven Kull, director of, in fact, “The widespread consensus that oil needs to be replaced as an energy source may be prompted by concerns about the effect of oil on climate change as well as the belief that oil will run out.” That suggests that there is, as yet, little understanding, even though the majority of people believe that global oil supplies are running out, of the serious implications for global society when they do. It suggests they see global warming as a threat to global society but do not make the same connection for depleting oil supplies. This may be based on the apparent belief or expectation that governments will find that elusive replacement for oil that will allow things to carry on as usual. The energy fairy would seem to be alive and well. Clearly much more work has to be done to get people to see the full picture.

What this poll does do, in a limited way, is help define the nature of the myopia in public opinion as regards the approaching global energy crisis. It gives us a little better picture of where the major efforts are going to be required to raise public awareness to a level where meaningful action can be undertaken. It also clarifies what the general public perception is of government's awareness of the energy situation. Whether that perception is realistic is irrelevant; perception is reality. Clearly if government continues down the road of assuring the people there is no problem, that technology will solve the energy problem, they are going to be in dire straits when that public perception catches up with reality, when people finally realize that there is no viable replacement for oil. Having now finally realized that oil is running out, when that final shoe drops (that there is no viable substitute) it will be devastating to society. Clearly as the public starts to make that connection there is going to be a strong need for very clear and meaningful leadership and direction of what society needs to do to powerdown to a non-fossil-fuel lifestyle. That's when things are going to get really interesting.


World publics say oil needs to be replaced as energy source by World Public Opinion
World Publics Say Oil Needs to Be Replaced as Energy Source

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