THE conflict in the Persian Gulf has renewed interest in energy issues. In recent surveys the American public demonstrates general support for the goal of making conservation the principal means of combatting our energy problems. Nine in 10 say the US should adopt a national energy policy to encourage conservation. When asked whether we should increase our energy production or cut back on our demand for energy, a majority choose conservation. By a large margin the public thinks that the US hasn't done a good job on conservation up to now. Why haven't we? For one thing, a large majority think that individually they have done a good job - even though the data indicate that for most the effort has been slight. Last August, for example, a full one-third of those surveyed said they had not done anything at all to reduce energy use.
The public rejects increased taxes on oil as a way to encourage conservation. Likewise, it rejects lowered speed limits on its highways. It embraces the freedom and independence that come from driving one's own car to work each morning; a majority say they won't even consider car-pooling.
We properly debate whether new conservation programs should be implemented. But as we do so we should keep in mind that the public's support for conservation as a prime answer to the country's energy needs thus far doesn't extend much beyond an abstract affirmation of the general goal.