Energy literacy cuts both ways – by Yadullah Hussain (National Post – November 16, 2012)

The National Post is Canada’s second largest national paper.

The energy industry and Canadians opposed to its plans seem to be speaking in different tongues. One side is focused on economic climate, the other on climate change. One brandishes impressive employment numbers, the other embarrassingly high CO2 emissions. One talks about provincial and federal permits, the other highlights the absence of a ‘social licence’.

A common gripe among industry executives is that the average Canadian doesn’t comprehend the economic benefits and job creation the industry brings to the table, nor does he or she trust the safety of the technologies deployed.

“It’s an image of ships passing in the night, going in opposite directions,” said Michal Moore, professor of economics at the School of Public Policy, University of Calgary.

Prof. Moore, together with colleagues André Turcotte and Jennifer Winter, wrote a report aimed at measuring Canadian energy literacy. Released Oct. 31, it surveyed more than 1,500 Canadians to determine their understanding of energy issues.

“The survey revealed that Canadians have a good general knowledge of energy use and relative cost but lack detailed knowledge about sources of energy fuels, as well as sources and linkages with environmental impacts,” the report says.

Crucially, an overwhelming 77% of respondents indicated they were concerned about environmental issues.

“Everyone can agree we need greater energy literacy, but the catch is we don’t mean the same thing by that,” said Keith Stewart, climate and campaign energy co-ordinator at Greenpeace. “For environmentalists, energy literacy is about how our energy system connects to climate change and water contamination and how we can get our energy in a different way … to avoid some of those problems. The energy industry feels people are not recognizing the benefits they bring and I think for environmentalists it is about recognizing the costs that come with it.”

Despite the industry’s protestations, Canadians believe they are fairly well-versed on energy issues. The School of Public Policy research indicates 60% of respondents believe they know at least a little about issues such as energy generation and energy use.

Ironically, 65% also believed their fellow Canadians do not have a firm grasp of energy matters.

However, 45% either falsely noted that Canada was either a net importer of energy, or its energy exports and imports were roughly the same, or just didn’t know the answer. In addition, many residents of Prince Edward Island, Ontario and — surprisingly — Saskatchewan and Alberta could not correctly identify the primary sources of their provinces’ electricity generation.

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