Americans strongly reject new gas taxes. According to a new NY Times/CBS poll, 85 percent oppose higher federal gas taxes. Not too surprising—except that the very same poll also found something quite different…

Americans strongly reject support new gas taxes—so long as the tax revenue is earmarked for specific investments. The most popular investment? Fighting global warming. 59 percent would support a gas tax if the result was less climate change. Slightly less popular was reducing dependence on foreign oil: 55 percent supported the tax in that case.

So surely gas tax increases would be super-popular if they abetted core American desires like fighting terrorism and reducing income taxes? Uh, nope. Only 28 percent would support a higher gas tax if its intent were to reduce other taxes. And only 24 percent would support it as a measure to fight terrorism.

I’m not sure I understand what exactly the poll reveals. But my hunch is that when it comes to gas consumption we Americans are a conflicted bunch; and we tend to see our fossil fuel use in ethical or even moral terms. We’re not necessarily interested in paying more for gas in order to take home bigger paychecks, or even to defend ourselves. But when it comes to offsetting some of the harm of gasoline use—things like climate change—we would support higher gas taxes with a landslide.