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Peak Oil Perceptions: How Americans View the Risks of Major Spikes in Oil Prices

A strong majority of Americans say it is likely that oil prices will triple in the coming five years and that such a tripling would be harmful both to the economy and to public health. Conservatives and those dismissive of climate change are among the most concerned by the threat of a major spike in oil prices, suggesting that a broad cross section of Americans may be ready to engage in dialogue about ways to manage the risks associated with peak petroleum. Those are among the key findings of a forthcoming study that we published in the September 1 issue of the American Journal of Public Health. I co-authored the study with Edward Maibach of George Mason University and Anthony Leiserowitz of Yale University. In a blog post at the Climate Shift Project web site, I summarize the study, provide supplementary graphs, and discuss several implications. You can also read a PDF of the study at the Climate Shift Project web site and download the supplementary graphs.


Between December 2009 and January 2010, we conducted a nationallyrepresentative telephone survey of US adults (n=1001; responserate=52.9%) to explore perceptions of risks associated withpeak petroleum. We asked respondents to assess the likelihoodthat oil prices would triple over the next 5 years and thento estimate the economic and health consequences of that event.Nearly half (48%) indicated that oil prices were likely to triple,causing harm to human health; an additional 16% said dramaticprice increases were unlikely but would harm health if theydid occur. A large minority (44%) said sharp increases in oilprices would be “very harmful” to health. Respondents who self-identifiedas very conservative (53%) and those who were strongly dismissiveof climate change (52%) were the respondents most likely toperceive very harmful health consequences. (Am J Public Health.Published online ahead of print July 21, 2011: e1-e7. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2011.300230)


This study was supported with funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health Policy Investigators Program, the 11th Hour Project, and the Surdna Foundation.

See Also:

Study: Re-Framing Climate Change as a Public Health Issue

Report on Conveying the Public Health Implications of Climate Change

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