Analysis of the ecological dimensions in general public energy education programs of major justice, faith-based, indigenous and environmental organizations: Energizing a future role for ecologists
Energy choices have many ecological implications, and are a timely educational outreach opportunity for ecologists in bridge-building with others to achieve earth stewardship. Yet public debates on energy policy often fail in comprehensiveness or inclusion of key principles in choice-making such as risks and benefits. Our goal was to assess the ecology education needs of the general public towards achieving informed energy decision-makers. We investigated the largest national environmental organizations that had web-available resources designed for adult learners in informal or non-formal settings. For the major energy education organizations, we investigated “Is ecology found in education initiatives and how? We assessed if these efforts appropriately incorporated modern ecological principles and the results of good scientific research. Similarly, for the major environmental and ecological organizations we asked, “Are energy dimensions found in ecology education and how”? We developed a series of keywords and searches to identify organizational materials and assessed the number of joint mentions and portion of total content that addressed ecology and energy concerns. We particularly investigated the inclusion of justice concerns as well as the inclusion of ecological science in the resources of faith-based organizations.
We found that environmental impacts of energy sources are more commonly analyzed in isolation, i.e. considering one energy source at a time, and more rarely by comprehensive comparison of multiple sources and considering cradle-to-grave impacts. Environmental impacts tend to be framed more generally, or specifically to local issues and time-sensitive policy responses, and less often include articulation of ecological principles and long-term impacts. In general, scientific sites had extensive information on the environmental impacts of climate change but much less on addressing solutions by considering the ecological impacts of various energy choices. Faith-based organizations included some justice components and rarely included ecological concepts in considering environmental impacts and are a growing audience for outreach. Our results suggest an important future role for ecologists in energy-related research, in the development of general public energy education programs and in outreach to community organizations through web resources, partnerships and in-person communication. Future steps include: developing ways to quantify and compare ecological impacts of different energy choices including the ecological footprint, determining costs of ecosystem services alteration, and bio-regional considerations. Engaging in energy issues is a timely opportunity for ecologists to make our full contribution to an informed, ecologically and energy literate public and a sustainable planetary future.