The Center for Opinion Research at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania have released the data collected from their annual poll. The poll covers many different topics and subject areas, including energy and environmental issues. Pollsters asked Pennsylvanians their opinions on climate change, sources of energy and energy policy in the Commonwealth.
Their study found that climate change is in the forefront of most of the population’s minds. A majority of 67% of Pennsylvanians believe that climate change is causing problems now, an increase of 5% from last year’s poll, though the percentage of respondents who state that they have personally experienced climate change related issues slightly dropped from 39% to 37% since last year. Pennsylvanians also seek to prioritize renewable energy over fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas. Though minimal, the data exhibited a drop of 1% in the majority, from 69% in 2018 to 68% in 2019, of those who would prefer that renewables be prioritized. However, the percentage of those who want to prioritize fossil fuels rose from 18% to 20% since last year.
The two fossil fuels referenced in the questions, coal and natural gas, are not equals in the minds of Pennsylvanians. Though renewables are the overwhelming preference of Pennsylvanians, natural gas is seen as cleaner and safer than coal. In fact, 37% of those polled believe that natural gas is more environmentally friendly than coal, who respondents only chose 2% of the time, as well as nuclear energy. Respondents also find natural gas to be safer than coal and nuclear energy, with gas receiving 31% of the vote to coals 10%. Though the definition of “safer” is up for debate, their attitudes towards natural gas’ environmental friendliness are not wrong.
According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, natural gas is a much cleaner energy source than coal. The UCS states that “natural gas emits 50 to 60 percent less carbon dioxide when combusted in a new, efficient natural gas power plants” compared to coal fired plants. Natural gas is also a cleaner fuel source for vehicles, emitting “15 to 20 percent less heat-trapping gases than gasoline”.
Renewables are the future, and the poll shows that a majority of Pennsylvanians agree with that statement. However, natural gas has the potential to bridge the gap until renewables can fully sustain energy demands while continuing to decrease carbon dioxide emissions.