What do you know about it?

2012-08-09 15:18 by Anja Reitz

One could say that it is not necessary for everybody to be able to give the answers, like it is not necessary that everybody knows how to make bread, as long as the people in the bakery do. But there is a huge difference between the bread recipe, and energy and CO2!

The recipe a baker uses to make bread is up to the baker himself. He can change the recipe as often as he likes. If clients don’t like the bread, they just go to another bakery or they buy crackers instead. But when it comes to energy, it’s not that easy. Energy needs to be of a constant quality because modern societies are fully dependant on it and end-users don’t have an alternative product to buy. But the conventional resources that create a stable, reliable energy system have a huge impact on the climate worldwide. Changes in the energy system thus have a huge impact today, but especially in the future. Additionally, energy projects have a direct and indirect impact on local communities and other stakeholders. A wide range of stakes are thus involved and no individual, organisation, or even nation, is in the position to decide upon it alone. Societal debates are needed to come to decisions about the future of the energy system locally, nationally and internationally.

These societal debates emerge especially when energy projects are planned, regardless of whether they are a wind or solar farm, hydrogen or electric vehicle infrastructure, home insulation, a coal or biomass plant, or a CCS project. These can only be understood well within the broader context of energy, climate change and CO2. It also implies that everybody involved in discussions about these projects has a basic knowledge of this context. And this is unfortunately often not the case.

Many energy project developers have experienced it themselves. In discussions with community members, but also (local) politicians or other stakeholders, they hear the strangest arguments that illustrate this lack of knowledge. People thinking that a few wind turbines is enough to provide electricity to a whole country, saying that all coal-fired plants should be closed without accepting alternative electricity production projects, or confusing CO2 with carbon monoxide.

So, what does the average citizen know about energy and climate change? Recent studies on the general public’s awareness, beliefs and opinions in the Netherlands provide some insights in to these (Paukovic et al, 2011). Most Dutch people state to know climate change, but only very few are able to explain that use of fossil fuels increases CO2 levels in the atmosphere that lead to climate change. Also the studies revealed many misunderstandings among the general Dutch public in relation to CO2. For example, over a third of the people are unsure whether CO2 can cause cancer or is harmful for the skin.

The authors concluded that “the outcomes of these studies suggest a major lack of public awareness and knowledge, regarding options, rationale and consequences of CO2 mitigation in the Netherlands. From a democratic point of view, one could argue that people should at least be aware of the rationale for CO2 mitigation and the possible options and consequences for both society and individuals. Given the current lack of awareness, improving this will require significant efforts on a national scale” (Paukovic et al, 2011, p3).

A basic knowledge about energy, climate change and CO2 is thus necessary to be able to join any discussion about energy projects.  And a basic knowledge is particularly important for CCS in order for people to understand the reasons for its existence. As the debates on energy projects in the Netherlands show many similarities with those in other developed countries, we can assume that the call for information and education on a national scale is a global call. Governments together with industries and NGOs should pick up this task to inform and educate their citizens more about the challenges of society as a whole to create a reliable energy system and decrease emissions and the role of each individual in this.

Paukovic, M. et al (2011). The Dutch general public’s opinion on CCS and energy transition: Development in awareness, knowledge, beliefs and opinions related to information and media coverage. CATO-2 Deliverable WP5.3-D02a. http://www.co2-cato.org/publications/publications/the-dutch-general-public-s-opinion-on-ccs-and-energy-transition-development-in-awareness-knowledge-beliefs-and-opinions-related-to-information-and-media-coverage

Source: GCCS blog


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