New energy technologies will (WON’T) save us!

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New energy technologies will (WON’T) save us!

I am not, in general, a technology lover.  In fact, I admit to being a bit of a Luddite.  If new technology has entered my home, it has invariably been introduced by my husband, who adores gadgets.  That’s how we got the juicer and the new single-serve coffee maker. (He’s made juice only once, and he doesn’t even like coffee.)  However, I, like most Americans, am very supportive of the development of new energy technologies.

I just read a very well-written blog on Forbes.com by Michael Shellenberger “Why Climate Science Divides Us, But Energy Technology Unites Us“.  In it, Mr. Shellenberger cites the many reasons that climate change has become a highly politicized, dividing force in the United States with regard to our energy policy. Indeed, we’ve reported on the overall decline in agreement with the statement “climate change is occurring and is primarily cause by human activity” (57% agreement in Energy Pulse 2010, compared to 62% in EP2009) and we concur that division on this issue primarily breaks along political party affiliation (only 36% of Republicans agreed with this statement in EP 2010, compared to 75% of Democrats).  Ultimately, driving energy policy with a climate change argument isn’t going to work.

The Forbes blog concludes that the development of more advanced energy technology is the solution – something that “both sides of the aisle” can support. We see in our studies that this is definitely a “uniting” message that most Americans support.  However, Shellenberger focuses primarily on what he sees as a shift in attitudes – even among some leading environmentalists – toward support of nuclear development while our studies have found that Americans would actually prioritize the development of solar and wind over nuclear.  In response to the 2010 Energy Pulse question “If you were President of the United States and could choose to provide financial support for the development or exploration of ONE of the following energy sources during your term in office, which would you choose?” 32% chose solar energy; 22% chose wind power; and 15% chose nuclear energy.  Interestingly, when placed alongside alternative energy sources, “drill baby drill” doesn’t get much traction.  Petroleum development was at the bottom of the list, with only 3% support.

Americans are dazzled by the idea of alternative energy development as a magic bullet to solve both our energy and environmental issues.  And why not?  It means we don’t have to change our behavior.  Conservation is hard!  It’s much better to buy or build our way out of the problem.  The development of alternative energy solutions means jobs for Americans!  Who could possibly be against that?

But I know that the development of new technologies usually leads to increased, not decreased consumption.  The growth in sales of energy efficient appliances and electronics should have resulted in significant consumption reduction, but it hasn’t.  A growing number of studies indicate that people are just using their new, more energy-efficient gadgets more.  The reality is that alternative energy development and energy-efficient product sales are unlikely to solve our problems, stand-alone.  Real, long-term solutions will also require some “unpleasant” behavior changes like paying attention to when and how we use energy and adjusting to time of use billing.  It’s going to require using less, not more.  The recession has introduced many Americans to this unfamiliar concept, but it’s been two generations since our country has truly been focused on “using less”.  My grandparents were adept at this skill – alas, I am not.  But I’m committed to learning (and I’m working on my husband).

About the Author

Lee Ann Head

Lee Ann is a former contributor to Shelton Insights.

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