Solar Beats Wind in MIT Public Awareness Survey

Solar energy has higher public awareness as a climate change solution than wind energy, according to a survey by Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Published: 30-Mar-2005

given a list of technologies and energy sources that can mitigation emission of greenhouse gases, 70% said they had heard of more-efficient cars while 63% identified solar energy. Although 50% said wind energy, 54% identified nuclear as a mitigation option.

Biomass and bioenergy was noted by only 10% of respondents, well behind the 49% for efficient appliances and 48% for hydrogen, but ahead of the 4% for carbon capture and storage, 3% for carbon sequestration and 2% for iron fertilization. Seventeen percent of the 1,200 respondents say they had not heard of any of the ten options offered.

“Climate change and the threat of global warming are poorly understood by the U.S. public, and taking action to reduce their impact is not a high priority,” concludes Howard Herzog of MIT’s Laboratory for Energy & the Environment, which has been studying CO2 capture and storage for the past decade. The process has “technologic and economic promise, but public acceptance could be a problem.”

The researchers were not surprised that carbon storage and sequestration “fell under the radar for the general public,” but they were surprised that many respondents had not recently heard about wind energy, hydrogen cars or nuclear as mitigation solutions for climate change.

“These results suggest that change in U.S. climate policy will not be led by public opinion,” the report notes. “Elected officials will have to provide leadership - a task they will find difficult because achieving significant reduction of the greenhouse gases linked to climate change may involve economic costs well above what the average consumer is willing to pay.”

The survey included 17 questions about the environment, global warming and mitigation technologies, and was conducted by Knowledge Networks. When asked what concern would be addressed by carbon storage, half were not sure and, of those who made a choice, 23% said it could reduce global warming, but 29% incorrectly said it could reduce smog. Those who had heard about the option were no more likely to know what concern it might address than those who had not heard about it.

The environment was rated 13th on a list of 22 options for the “most important issues facing the U.S. today,” with global warming scoring sixth on a list of ten environmental problems, well behind water pollution and toxic waste.

The MIT researchers will administer the same survey in three years to measure changes in public awareness, and are analyzing similar surveys in Japan, the United Kingdom and Sweden.

The survey found that people are confused over whether technologies increase or decrease CO2 levels in the atmosphere, with one-third responding that nuclear reactors emit carbon as cars, factories and coal-fired power plants. When asked how we can best address the issue of global warming related to power generation, half wanted to expand the use of solar and wind but, when told that switching to renewables could triple their family’s annual power bill, half the supporters abandoned renewables for other options such as carbon storage with coal- or gas-fired power plants and nuclear.

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