Connecting the path to energy savings with “No on Prop 23″ funding

Today I started reading news in Google Reader, and came across 2 topics that I wish could just find a way to meet up. They have to do with getting widespread behavior and mentality change to happen and funding for political campaigns/issues. That may not sound like they can be connected, but just read on!

The first article is titled “Misperceived Paths to Energy Savings” from the Dot Earth blog on the New York Times. It that talks about a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The researchers surveyed regular people and found that they generally do not have the right idea about what the most effective ways to save energy are, when compared to what is recommended by experts. The best ways to increase energy savings, according to this study, are efficiency improvements, rather than usage curtailment. (Though both may be necessary, in my opinion.)

I think what they are trying to stress here is that people have the idea in their heads that if they just turn the lights off when not in use or drive a little less, that that will be enough to make a major difference, that they can “do their part” in these small ways. While these behavioral changes are good and great, there really isn’t much of a change in mentality or understanding of the deeper issues. There is still a self-centered approach to those activities, whereas more significant action would take more significant effort (i.e. buying more efficient light bulbs, appliances, water heaters, cars, etc.; insulating your home).

The NY Times journalist suggests that this study is a sign that the US needs to invest more in energy literacy in order to make a dent in the wasted energy and avoidable carbon emissions related to energy use.

The next article I would like to bring into this discussion is about Proposition 23 in California. You can find the second article here at Grist. Prop 23 opposes the climate change legislation in California, and is supported by big oil companies from other states such as Texas. The campaign against Prop 23 also has big backers, such as environmental groups, tech companies in Silicon Valley, and other companies. All in all, there are several millions of dollars going into the campaigns on both sides.

I won’t get started on how unrestricted lobbying could possibly be one of the big reasons why our local and federal governments continue to fail on important fronts, because that would be too much of a tangent. But I couldn’t help thinking, what if they took those millions of dollars going into campaigning and actually put it into informative programs on the ground to address issues like energy efficiency? Maybe it wouldn’t even take that much seed money to get something going, because apparently home energy efficiency is a booming business.

Now, I’m not actually suggesting to take the money out of the No on Prop 23 campaign, but what if every group that invested in the campaign matched with an investment into an energy literacy program? Rather than only putting money into TV and radio ad campaigns that may not increase the general public’s understanding of climate change legislation but confuse people more?

I do not wish to resign to the idea that people are mindless and believe whichever campaign had the most funding and was therefore more prominent. Maybe I don’t understand enough about what is going on. I admit that I sometimes do not understand why people are such adamant deniers of climate change.

In any case, the point is that there really isn’t enough effort or funding going into informing the masses and this could potentially be an innovative way to raise funds and awareness. I would really like to see a lot of things become part of general knowledge, like climate change and evolution, which really deserved to be a part of general knowledge decades ago.

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2 Responses

  1. chewbear says

    I see what you are saying. Another thing that seems to happen a lot is people will say “I don’t believe in…(fill-in-the-blank),” when in reality, you cannot “believe” or “disbelieve” in things that are scientific. You have a hypothesis and test it against other hypotheses, and your own beliefs should not be a factor into your analysis. This is where science is very different from religion.

    If you disagree with a scientist’s hypothesis or theory, you develop your own hypothesis and test it systematically to gather data to compare. You don’t start your own sect and ignore and hate on everyone else’s. But I’m not saying all science happens without conflict. There is plenty of that.

    Either the right-wing does not understand how science works, or they do and continually choose to not “believe in” scientific findings that disagree with their agendas to prove a point. Even just by telling the public that the “don’t believe in” science, they do a lot of damage because they give people the idea that science is something that you can choose to believe in or not. That confuses people when, on the other end, scientists are saying that there is irrefutable evidence for something. To take a page from Al Gore’s book, it is more inconvenient to give up ignorance on some issues.

    But, then again, I don’t have any actual data on this, so you don’t have to trust me. Maybe that is my next task!

  2. Nat says

    Informing the masses has gotten increasingly more difficult ever since the right-wing began to doubt science in general. It used to be that scientific television programs and books with enough appeal (like Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, to name an older example) could do a lot to improve scientific literacy among the population at large.

    But these days, I feel like as a countermeasure to this, a lot of right-wing commentators (and even politicians) have been denouncing science in general as left-wing, as a catch-all against scientific theories that go against right-wing political agenda and widely-held religious tenets (evolution and climate change seem to be the pivotal issues here). By fomenting an anti-science attitude among people in the United States, they’ve managed to preemptively render scientific literacy efforts ineffective, since people will be predisposed to dismiss this sort of new knowledge. They’ve trained people to willfully remain ignorant!

    I must stop, as I am suddenly feeling very angry.