That is, as long as it doesn’t increase gasoline costs by $0.40/gallon. That is one of a number of findings from Public Agenda in a new report called The Energy Learning Curve™ (PDF):
What should we do about the energy issues we face? Public Agenda, in its Energy Learning Curve study released today as part of Planet Forward, found that despite a lot of partisan debate, Americans find common ground on many proposals, including using more alternative fuels. There’s also a lot of agreement on what not to do, especially making it more expensive to drive. Our research suggests this consensus may be shaky as policymakers take up the issue – as many people had both unrealistic ideas and misconceptions about energy production and use.
I was surprised by public opinions on a few points, but mostly the survey confirms my own experience in dealing with people over energy issues. Some of their findings:
Finding 1: Right now, a majority of the public sees the price of energy and dependence on foreign oil as troubling problems. Significantly, they also believe the problem won’t go away when the price of energy falls. Climate change, however, is less of a concern.
Finding 2: There is substantial consensus on the proposals that the nation should pursue, particularly alternative energy, conservation and incentives to become more efficient. These seem promising to the public, but they may not have realistic assumptions about how quickly and easily these alternatives can be achieved.
Finding 3: Just as there’s widespread support on promising ideas, there also seems to be broad agreement on what’s off the table. Anything that increases the cost of driving is soundly rejected by the public.
Finding 4: The public’s knowledge level is low on energy, with significant numbers who do not know some basic facts about how energy is produced. This calls into question how firm the consensus is and how well it will hold up under pressure.
Emphasis mine. First, some comments on the findings. 80 percent responded that they worry that dependence on foreign oil will involve us in wars and conflicts in the Middle East. But 57 percent said they wouldn’t be willing to pay an additional $0.40 a gallon to help achieve energy independence. (Oddly, 68 percent agreed that “We should take whatever steps are necessary to gain energy independence even if it increases the cost of gas, electricity and heating fuel over the next few years.”) A majority reject an increase in gas taxes regardless of the reason. (I would like to see the results if one of the options was my proposal to refund the tax via income tax credits).
The level of energy knowledge is abysmal. To me, this is the biggest obstacle in adhering to a long-term, coherent energy policy. 39% of respondents couldn’t name a fossil fuel. A majority – 51% – couldn’t name an alternative energy source. 65% thought that most of our oil imports come from the Middle East. The report sums up the problem quite well: Without certain facts, the public can’t judge what’s realistic and what’s not, and that’s bound to hamper constructive decision making. I would add that it isn’t just the public; it extends to the politicians that we elected.
The survey identified four distinct groups: the Disengaged (19 percent), the Climate Change Doubters (17 percent), the Anxious (40 percent) and the Greens (24 percent). The Disengaged don’t know much about energy, and don’t care to. The Greens are reasonably knowledgeable about energy, and distributed across both major political parties. The Anxious are more likely to be unemployed, Democrat, less educated, and under 35.
The Doubters were more likely to be male, Republican, and have a higher level of college education than the general public (one of the surprises to me). 90% of the doubters don’t worry about global warming at all, 79% would accept a nuclear plant in their neighborhood, and 89% favor increased drilling.
In the Afterword, they hit upon why I do what I do:
Climbing the learning curve involves three distinct stages. Consciousness-raising to make the public aware of the threat is the first stage. The second — and longest and most arduous stage — involves the need for people to confront their own wishful thinking and denial as they wrestle with the need to make painful tradeoffs and sacrifices. The third and final stage is resolution and support for remedial action.
Energy is such an integral part of all of lives, that I believe it is critically important to make sure the voting public is well-informed on energy issues. Too often we engage in wishful thinking, where algal biodiesel or cellulosic ethanol will come riding to the rescue as our domestic energy supplies deplete. Ironically, the Public Agenda website encourages people to go to Planet Forward to share your ideas of how we can get off of fossil fuels. One of the features is a segment on algal biodiesel, which to me falls squarely in the category of wishful thinking.
The take home message for me here is that it is important to continue pushing the dialogue on energy issues. Deep down I am optimistic that as fossil fuel prices continue to stretch people’s budgets, they will become more interested in informing themselves on energy issues.
13 thoughts on “We Want Energy Independence!”
I think that Americans, rightly, or wrongly, inherently “trust” the “market.” (I, also, think they are inherently skeptical of the “Media;” hence, the skepticism of “global warming.”)
One thing they’re “Sure of” is that if it costs them more money to use ethanol than “gasoline” they’ll use gasoline.
Another thing they’re pretty sure of is that the only person looking out for them is “THEM.”
I am rather pessimistic that Americans are likely to address these issues in a constructive way prior to major price increases on products, which will hurt the poorest first and worst. This is because the solid majority is middle class–and it will take larger and more destructive price movements to hurt them.
Of course, Hamilton’s recent Brookings paper might convince the “liberal elite,” but even most of them wont’ read it in full, and of those who do, only a few will even be able to truly follow it.
A major part of the problem regarding US energy IQ is that the reporters reporting on the issue in the broadcast / national print press don’t quite understand it. (Hell, even the trades often have stupid stories.)
Beyond that … many are not educated enough to understand it –for example, I am not educated enough in engineering to truly follow conversations about refining options for different crude types, I can only get the gist. You not only need to be fairly literate, but numerate, and at least somewhat savvy about the state of the world and the reality of domestic policy in order to have an average energy IQ.
This presents pedagogical problems, as in the teachers often don’t understand their subject. Have you noticed how little different segments of the energy business understand each other?
This is just sad!
“There are other significant gaps in knowledge. Nearly 4 in 10 Americans (39 percent) cannot name a fossil fuel.”
However, in this case,
“About one-third of the public (31 percent) says that solar energy contributes to global warming.”
Only 31%% got the right answer. LCA show that the ghg emulsions from cradle to grave for solar are low but this assumes solar systems are properly installed and maintained.
This would be me!
“Climate Change Doubters (17 percent of the public)
This group is equally or more knowledgeable about some energy issues than the other groups, but they reject the idea of global warming. That makes for a fundamental difference in attitudes and solutions.”
“The Doubters were more likely to be male, Republican, and have a higher level of college education than the general public (one of the surprises to me).”
I went to a GREEN POWER conference a number of years ago. I was very disappointed it was all about marketing to English majors who listen to NPR. It was about duping the elite of America.
I do not doubt that ghg emissions will have some environmental impact but how significant is the impact? AGW is a small compared to the natural variability of climate. I have a whole list of things to worry about. AGW is on my list but it is way down the list. It is hard to convince anyone who had classmates with polio that AGW is a big problem requiring a change in living standards.
LCA show that the ghg emulsions from cradle to grave for solar are low but this assumes solar systems are properly installed and maintained.
There were a few questions like that where I thought “To be precise, they are probably counting the right answer as the wrong answer.”
The API did a similar survey a couple of years ago and found similar results:
America’s Energy IQ
Some of the questions are admittedly self-serving, but overall it shows that the public has a very poor grasp.
The good citizens of London put it right below, “Dog poo on the sidewalks.”
A major part of the problem regarding US energy IQ is that the reporters reporting on the issue in the broadcast / national print press don’t quite understand it.
No question. This is one reason I am really glad to be on the Energy and the Media panel at the EIA conference next week. One of the themes I want to hit is that often the media don’t seem to be able to decipher BS from real stories.
I am not educated enough in engineering to truly follow conversations about refining options for different crude types
To be fair, those are really specific questions that I wouldn’t expect people to generally know. On the other hand, I would think people should know basic information about the source of our oil imports.
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energyenvironmentforum at gmail dot com
They call India 'the worlds biggest democracy'. The average voter places his thumb print over a party symbol to vote. The voting group is very often bought with a bag of rice.
The US is not a whole lot better. Outside of presidents, senators, congressmen, & governors generally the public has no idea who or what they are voting for.
The hope today is that Obama isn't beholden to much of the democratic party as it only supported him when it became evident he would be the nominee.
Hopefully he has the willingness to educate people through his oratory (I say educate rather than BS them but I doubt it is possible to educate enough people but the oratory powers are significant) to get the authority from the public to push needed changes through – even if they don't know why.
With Kennedy & Feinstein opposing renewable power in their backyards there is little for anything starting from congress.
“Hopefully he has the willingness to educate people”
It is not the job of POTUS to educate people. In fact it is not the job of the federal government to educate people. Becoming educated is a choice. There are many sources of good information. My favorite is National Energy Policy, May 2001. It is available on the Internet and it is free. It is amazing the number if people that are critical of US policy but do not know what it is.
“Kennedy & Feinstein opposing renewable power in their backyards “
Consider for a moment that there may be good reasons to oppose renewable energy in some location. When I say that we should build in farms as fast as we can, I was thinking about putting them in dry land wheat or corn fields.
If people are ignorant of energy they are even more ignorant of the environment impact of producing it.
Open this link at about 7am Pacific time: http://www.iwindsurf.com/windandwhere.iws?regionID=219&siteID=244&Isection=Windcam
Why do you think that a windsurfing site uses this web cam. Why do you think that one of the largest concentration of wind farms are to the east of the web cam and it would be foolish to build windfarms to the west?
Creating enough awareness on Rebewable Energy would be key for this energy crisis. Renewable Energy and energy efficiency need to be introduced right from primery school education. Ravi Soparkar, India
I was recently in the office of a politician lobbying him to drop his city’s plan for a 40% biodiesel blend. He new almost nothing of the science, pro or con.
Politicians don’t make decisions based on science. They make them on public opinion. The absurdity in today’s complex world is that citizens don’t have a clue about what is going on. Decisions are about as random as a coin flip.
The media is just as ignorant as the public. They base articles on two phone calls with people of differing opinion who they hope are “experts.”
How Democracy will survive complexity is a mystery to me right now. Something has to change in the way our politicians make decisions or short of that, the opinions they seek from the public should be informed ones.
Most Americans get most of their information from television. Maybe that is where we should concentrate education efforts.
“How Democracy will survive complexity is a mystery to me right now.”
One of the tools is PAC. I contribute to my company’s PAC so that I can more effectively lobby my elected officials.
One of the reason I live where I do is because anti-business policies in former states and pro-business in my present state. My former location has a half empty parking lot, my new location is just putting the finishing touches on a new parking lot. What city would not want a new training center? In fact both cities wanted it it. The governor of my new state said how can we help and comes to the boon dock to cut the ribbon. He gets to create news item about jobs and speak to a few hundred voters, we get to take the governor and the press on an educational tour of all are facilities.
“We Want Energy Independence! That is, as long as it doesn’t increase gasoline costs by $0.40/gallon.”
Perhaps those surveyed are simply conveying their goals in a highly efficient manner – wisely leaving the details of a somewhat complex subject to others they know have more knowledge.
I often feel that the entire state of the modern world (since 1973) can be summed up in the current price of oil. If I were president, the first question I would ask each morning is “where’s the price of oil?”
Although, one should always be careful when boiling down complexity to a simple number 😉
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