Depending on your faith in the American public, a figure from the University of Texas at Austin indicating that less than a quarter of Americans consider themselves knowledgeable about energy is either comforting -- that is, higher than you thought -- or very scary indeed.
For instance, studies have shown that when prices go up at the pump, people tend to use less electricity, although electricity generation almost never comes from oil in the U.S. -- unless you’re in Hawaii.
But back to that 24 percent. That survey finding suggests that the vast majority of Americans are relatively clueless about energy, a notion that has often been verified in other studies and surveys, including one last year from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The UT study, which surveyed 3,400 people, also found that despite this lack of knowledge, most people agreed that the U.S. is headed in the right direction when it comes to energy. About two-thirds of respondents were concerned about energy efficiency in their homes, and 60 percent said they were concerned about global energy issues.
The disconnect between what people know and what they want to know is huge; in fact, 80 percent wanted to know more about reducing their own energy use.
There is enough fault to go around. Let’s start right here. While Greentech Media regularly reports on companies and trends in energy efficiency and smart grid technologies, our audience is business-focused and perhaps isn’t reaching the average person looking to weatherize his or her home. There’s nothing sexy or compelling about energy efficiency. The old adage in news -- “If it bleeds, it leads” -- has not changed, even on the internet. Energy efficiency certainly doesn’t bleed, and as such, the topic is rarely granted front-page headlines.
There are some valuable government resources, such as the U.S. DOE’s database for incentives, which can help people understand the tax incentives and rebates that are available for energy efficiency. Research has also found that local organizations are also the best way to motivate neighborhoods.
A little education would also go a long way. A more comprehensive science education is sorely needed in many parts of the U.S. A recent survey in California found that only 10 percent of students in elementary school regularly receive hands-on science lessons, according to the LA Times. That’s right, 10 percent. No wonder adults don’t feel knowledgeable about energy issues.
If children are not offered comprehensive science education, including the basics of electricity, fossil fuels and how energy is consumed in their world, then there is no basis on which to build as adults.
The UT poll was the first of many, and the researchers plan to conduct the same energy poll every six months. Hopefully by next Halloween, some of the stats won’t be quite so scary.