WASHINGTON - Global public opinion believes that the world is running out of oil and that governments should be doing more to replace it as humanity's main source of energy, according to a major international survey released here Sunday by WorldPublicOpinion.org.
Confidence that governments are doing enough to plan for oil shortages -- and the likelihood that its market price is likely to continue rising over the next decade -- is particularly low in western industrialised countries, including the United States, France, and Britain, according to the survey.
While more than three out of four U.S. respondents (76 percent) said they believe that "oil is running out, and it is necessary to make a major effort to replace oil as a primary source of energy," only four out of 10 (41 percent) said they believe the government is making a similar assumption and is acting on it.
Majorities in 15 of 16 nations that were covered by the poll, which was conducted during the first six weeks of this year, said they believed that "oil is running out", and significant majorities in all 16 said they expect to have to pay more for oil 10 years from now than they do now.
"People around the world seem to assume that these higher prices are not only here to stay, but will even go higher," said Steven Kull, director of the University of Maryland's Programme on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA), which manages WPO.
The only country where most respondents (53 percent) said they believed enough new oil will be found to maintain its status as the world's primary source of energy was Nigeria.
The survey comes as oil prices continue to reach record heights and a growing consensus that higher oil prices have become a permanent feature of global economics has emerged among most energy experts.
Adding to concern is the relationship between higher oil prices and the sudden rise in the price of basic foods which become a source of recent unrest in many poor countries around the world.
In addition to growing demand for more grain-intensive foods, such as chicken and pork, in China and other rapidly growing economies, the diversion of staples like corn into bio-fuel production, as well as the pervasive use of oil in the production and transportation of food commodities, is contributing to the rise in the price of both food and oil.
The poll's findings, which included nearly 15,000 respondents in the 16 countries, are the latest in a series released by WPO from a major multinational survey on numerous global issues over the past several weeks.
Earlier this week, it released a separate report that found that support for the free-market system as the best economic model has eroded over the last several years in 10 of 18 countries, and particularly in South America and Asia, although it remains the preferred model of majorities in all but three countries -- Turkey, France, and Russia.
The 16 countries covered by the poll on oil represented a nearly 60 percent of the global population. They included Mexico and the United States in North America; Nigeria in Africa; Britain, France, Ukraine, and Russia in Europe; Egypt, Iran, the Palestinian Territories, Turkey and Azerbaijan in the greater Middle East; and South Korea, China, Indonesia, and India in Asia.
Respondents were asked three questions: whether governments should make long-term plans based on the assumption that enough new oil will be found for oil to retain its place as the primary source of energy for the foreseeable future, or whether it is running out; which assumption they thought their own governments were actually acting on at the moment; and whether oil prices will be higher, lower or about the same in 10 years as they are now.
Only about one in five respondents (22 percent) said enough new oil will be found, while 70 percent said they believed it will run out and thus it is necessary to make a major effort to replace it. The largest majorities holding the latter view were found in South Korea (97 percent), France (91 percent), Mexico (83 percent), and China (80 percent).
The smallest percentages who believed that oil was running out were found in Russia (53 percent), India (54 percent), and Nigeria (45 percent).
Majorities or pluralities of respondents in 12 of the 16 countries said they believed their governments are acting on the assumption that oil is indeed running out. That view was most strongly held in South Korea (79 percent), China (70 percent), Egypt (67 percent), and Iran (63 percent).
Significantly, Iran, whose controversial nuclear programme has been justified by the authorities by the need for additional sources of energy, had the lowest percentage by far of respondents who said their government is assuming that oil will remain plentiful -- only 12 percent.
By contrast, majorities in only two countries -- Nigeria (63 percent) and the United States (57 percent) -- said they believe that their governments are assuming that oil supplies will be sufficient. While most Nigerians -- alone among all respondents -- believe that calculation is correct, three out of four U.S. respondents (76 percent) said they disagreed with that assessment.
Similar gaps in confidence about their governments' assessment were seen in France, where 91 percent of respondents said they believe that oil is running out but only 56 percent said they thought the government shared that assessment; Mexico, where the gap was 83 percent to 49 percent; and Britain, 85 percent to 56 percent.
Overall, 35 percent of respondents thought their governments believed that oil would remain plentiful, while 53 percent thought their governments believed it would run out.
Interestingly, with the notable exception of Iran, in four out of the five oil-exporting countries -- Azerbaijan (31 percent), Nigeria (32 percent), Russia (34 percent), and Mexico (49 percent) -- the perception that their governments were planning for oil running out was below the overall average of 53 percent.
On predictions for the price of oil in 10 years, the survey found an overwhelming consensus that prices will go higher; 55 percent of all respondents said "much higher", while 24 percent said "somewhat higher".
Most pessimistic were respondents in France (81 percent "much higher"), Indonesia (74 percent); Egypt (67 percent), and the U.S. (63 percent). Remarkably, the most optimistic respondents were found in China where only 29 percent said they believed prices would be "much higher," while 46 percent said "somewhat higher".
© 2008 Inter Press Service