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A Tale of Two Energy Priorities – Told In Charts


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I like charts. And I like to tell stories through charts. So let’s begin…

According to the latest data from the UT Energy Poll, here’s where Americans most want to see their tax dollars spent:

Not surprisingly, job creation is a high priority. Fair enough. (Energy” ranks last, with slightly fewer votes than “other,” but that’s a topic for another day). Now we’ll look a bit closer…

These are the perceived benefits most associated with natural gas production (note these survey responses were not mutually exclusive):

And next, the perceived benefits most associated with renewables:

Now back to tax dollar priorities. If job creation is valued most and natural gas production is perceived as a job creator, there’s going to be a fair amount of public support behind expanding it. (Hence the current energy transition). However, given that just four percent of Americans rank the environment as a top priority, the development and adoption of renewable technologies may be limited.

What’s important to keep in mind is that “perceived” benefits do not necessarily reflect reality. It’s true that renewables may lead to a cleaner environment, but they also create jobs and are certainly involved in boosting American innovation, economic growth, and competitiveness.

Public attitudes on both topics reflect the way we have been framing them. In the case of renewables, it may be time to change the conversation.

Sheril Kirshenbaum About the Author: Sheril Kirshenbaum is Director of The Energy Poll at The University of Texas at Austin where she works to enhance public understanding of energy issues and improve communication between scientists, policymakers, and the public. Follow on Twitter @Sheril_.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. Scienceisnotagenda 12:43 pm 08/29/2013

    You are mixing apples and oranges. Where people want their taxes spent does not correspond with priorities. I rank my health as a high priority but don’t buy a thousand dollar exercise bike but 30 dollar sneakers for running.

    I value the environment but don’t see increased benefits from increased spending. Many perceive money poorly spent and diminishing returns…more spending on ‘whatever’ issues does not translate into more value. People have brains and base their judgement on their experience.

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  2. 2. curiouswavefunction 12:56 pm 08/29/2013

    Interesting analysis. Fracking clearly ranks high on job creation lists, but some people fear that it’s a bubble, creating temporary boom towns that will collapse in a heap within a few years. As for renewables, it is indeed hard to see people strongly backing them if they are not perceived as engines of economic growth and job creation; most people are thinking not about fifty years down the line but about their next meal and next year’s college tuition, and fracking seems to provide them with a much greater reassurance about those short-term benefits than other sources of energy.

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  3. 3. jerryd 2:38 pm 08/30/2013

    Shows how ignorant the public is more than anything else. But badly worded too.

    Facts are RE costs less, not more and as more figure this out things will change mostly because fossil fuel costs are increasing while RE drops.

    Anyone who thinks Fracking causes more jobs than RE is fooling themselves. RE’s main cost is labor with materials that also make jobs a close second.

    Link to this
  4. 4. OgreMk5 2:56 pm 08/30/2013

    I’ll also add that it really doesn’t matter what the public thinks on these topics. We do not get to make those decisions.

    Politicians make those decisions. Corporate CEOs make those decisions. Our input into those decisions is minimal at best and utterly ignored at worst.

    Link to this
  5. 5. Sheril Kirshenbaum 3:03 pm 08/30/2013

    @OgreMk5,
    Public opinion influences the people elected to office. Ultimately, we guide our energy future.

    Link to this

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