Well-informed citizens consider CO2 storage to be acceptable

According to Dutch researchers, if you want to know what the average citizen thinks about new energy options then make sure you inform them properly first. Respondents who are not well informed, only give 'pseudo opinions' which are too fickle to base policy on. This emerges from psychological research into what the Dutch think about various forms of energy generation from fossil fuels in combination with CO2 storage.

When energy is generated from fossil fuels, the greenhouse gases produced contribute to climate change. By capturing the CO2 produced and storing it underground, a major objection to the use of fossil fuels can be overcome. Researchers Marjolein de Best-Waldhober and Dancker Daamen asked a cross-section of the Dutch population (1005 respondents) how acceptable they would find six different forms of energy generation from fossil fuels in combination with CO2 storage. They used the ICQ method (Information-Choice Questionnaire) for this.

First of all they provided the respondents with an explanation about climate change and fossil fuels. Subsequently they gave them extensive expert information made accessible for lay people about the various technologies. A careful procedure ensured that this expert information was accurate and balanced. After that the respondents had to indicate how positive or negative they estimated the consequences of these technologies to be. Finally they scored each technology on a scale of 1-10. On average the technologies were rated between 6.0 and 6.5. Technologies which made use of natural gas were rated slightly higher than those using coal. Only 1 to 6 percent of the respondents considered the large-scale application of the technologies to be unacceptable.

Pseudo-opinions useless

A comparable group of Dutch people who had received no information and were presented with a traditional questionnaire, were on average slightly more negative about the six technologies. Interestingly high percentages of the respondents first stated that they had never heard of the technology and then despite this scored the technology concerned in the following question instead of using the possibility to refrain from evaluation. These scores were highly unstable. They changed if the respondents received information containing few facts, but also if they had to complete the same questions again 12 minutes later after a distracting task. The researchers concluded that these uninformed opinions are in effect 'pseudo opinions', which say nothing about the public acceptance of the technologies with CO2 storage.

The research was carried out at Leiden University in close cooperation with Utrecht University and with CATO, the Dutch research programme in the area of CO2 Capture, Transport and Storage (www.co2-cato.nl). The research is part of the programme 'Transition to sustainable use of fossil fuels', financed by the NWO/SenterNovem Stimulation Programme Energy Research.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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