It’s the counterintuitive energy ideas that people have trouble grasping.

Another one came out this week, in the form of a Japanese study in Environmental Science & Technology that found the best areas for photovoltaic solar energy may be the Earth’s coldest regions, even the high altitudes of the Andes and the Himalayas. Not only is sunshine abundant in high altitudes, but the cold temperatures may actually improve how solar technology performs.

The practical applications of this may be limited, the study admits, because there are lots of other reasons why you don’t build giant power plants in the high Andes. But the contradiction of cold weather and high solar power got us thinking about one of the biggest challenges in talking to the public about energy: what’s intuitive isn’t always true.

This isn’t about knowledge per se – although the fact that four in 10 Americans can’t name a fossil fuel, and even fewer can name a renewable energy source, should certainly give anyone pause.

But consider, for example, the question of smog. The United States has made considerable progress on visible air pollution over the last few decades, even as greenhouse gases continue to rise. But the public sees the two as related in ways that don’t hold up. About half (52 percent) say that by reducing smog the United States has gone “a long way” in reducing global warming; another 12 percent were unsure if this was true or false.

This is understandable and even logical; after all, if the air looks cleaner then we must be making progress. Going forward, the two goals of clean air and reducing carbon emissions can move in tandem. But the fact is that the emissions controls designed to reduce ozone and remove the sooty “particulates” that cause smog we’ve put into place in the last 40 years don’t remove the invisible greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. It wasn’t until recently that the EPA even attempted to regulate carbon dioxide (and they still may not get to carry it out).

A great deal of analytical time and effort has been spent on trying to figure out whether hot weather makes people believe in global warming and snowstorms make them more doubtful. Indeed, both environmentalists and climate skeptics try to capitalize on this. But the distinction between smog and global warming is something that may escape even well-informed people. And it suggests the public may be measuring our energy and climate problems by yardsticks that do not even occur to experts.

The real question is how this affects solutions. In the case of cleaner air and global warming, there are energy solutions that both work and look like they’re working. Shifting from coal to cleaner options, or from conventional cars to electric vehicles, can be “two-fers” in that sense. Others are harder. In one Public Agenda survey, more than half of the public (56 percent) says incorrectly that nuclear energy contributes to global warming. About one-third of the public (31 percent) says that solar energy contributes to global warming.

The point here isn’t that people are ill-informed, although that’s true enough. It’s that they grapple with solutions in ways that experts and advocates don’t always understand. And unless you have an accurate picture of where people start and how people learn, the best citizen education and engagement efforts will misfire. That’s a genuine shame. It’s hard to get people’s attention, and when you do, you really need to make the very best use of that time to help people enhance their understanding.

The burden is really on the elites – and we include advocates and activists in this group – to zero in on the misperceptions and gaps in knowledge that are really tripping people up. Unless we’re much smarter about environmental and energy citizen education, we’ll never be able to help the public make sense of these counterintuitive ideas. They’re not all going to become experts or advocates, but there are plenty of Americans who aren’t as engaged, and who aren’t going to be as engaged, but who still want the right things to happen.


  1. JAson
    Vancouver, BC
    April 6, 2012, 12:53 am

    Hey Mitch,

    Why don’t you try doing the research I suggested?

    Just because you don’t understand what I was saying has absolutely no bearing on the validity of it’s value.

    To suggest that I pulled it out of one source is just plain nonsense.

    Instead of just blandly stating that “so many things in my list are purely hypothetical” why didn’t you pick a few and debate them then?

    If you are so personally sure about these things why don’t you do as I suggested and go get them all debunked by a qualified electrodynamics professor? Then come back here and post them?

    Remember that the electrical engineering model that we use today is a man-made model and is nowhere close to perfection (that is unless you talk to an electrical expert who will tell you that it’s the best we’ve got, which often means “the only thing we’re gonna get”)

    The wealthiest and most powerful people on this spinning rock own all of the energy companies and most of the rest of the companies that use the energy they generate. And now the most elite among us say that carbon tax money will solve the pesky climate change problem. Who can possibly believe that line of bull?

    I hate to say this but; you’re missing the point big time.

    Status quo is going to drive us out of existence.

    Try learning something from those keywords I left at the end of my ‘rant’. There’s nothing going for acting like a pessimistic know-it-all at this stage of the game.


  2. Mitchonii
    October 27, 2011, 2:05 am

    I dunno what source you pulled nine tenths of your information from, but it is clearly biased in and of itself. You really should study physics before you criticize many of it’s fundamental laws and theories. As well, so many things in your list are purely hypothetical and just ideas of many theorists. Obviously you don’t understand how the universe or anything in it really works, except the sandcastles you build.

  3. JAson
    Vancouver, BC
    October 24, 2011, 11:47 pm

    Vancouver Sun
    “Global warming is the new religion of First World urban elites”
    Written By: Jonathan Manthorpe
    Date: July 29, 2009

    Comment by Jason Anthony

    There is no doubt at all that if we continue to teach scientific concepts that chain us to the current energy cartels – – this place will end up like in that movie Wall-E. That is a fact.

    I do not accept being told to turn down my thermostat when the power company refuses to sell me anything but ecosystem destroying hydroelectric power.

    Yes it is better than breathing in soot and toxic elements from a local coal fired power plant, thank-you Abbotsford residents for fighting SE2 in Sumas.

    However, I still wouldn’t want to live near a wind farm, have you listened to the endless noise racket from these contraptions? What about their devastating effect on local bird populations?

    I’m afraid that nuclear power also has absolutely NO place in a sustainable future on Earth, we can’t bury nuclear waste forever eh.

    No amount of wave snakes spread out across the worlds oceans and clogging up shipping lanes of the dirty diesel powered ships is going to do it either.

    Solar power has been around since the ancient Egyptians and even they never built a society around it. Only a few thousand years later and we’re still at 17% efficiency with this technology and getting nowhere.

    There is one thing in common behind all of these failed & flawed technologies and that is – – they all utilize the identical electrodynamic theories to produce and distribute our electrical energy. The Laws of Thermodynamics as we know them are horribly flawed and the very best foundation scientists we have know this.
    There are at least 20 known fundamental flaws in the presently accepted, worldwide used, electrical theories taught to every electrical engineer – – from Vancouver to Sydney to Istanbul.

    The only solution at this point is for enough people to search out and take-in the truth that’s being held from us, and DEMAND our politicians to rout the official scientific priesthood that controls our education.

    I’m exhaling CO2 right now, so are you. And right now the Earth is traveling 14,000 km/hr through empty space, spinning on it’s axis, going around the sun, while our entire little piece of the sky turns in a spiral galaxy. Where is the pollution from this unfathomable amount of energy being expended?

    I bet if the energy priests here on Earth would let us answer that question, we’d be a lot further ahead. Of course, multinational elitist owned corporations like Kinder Morgan and Royal Dutch Shell would probably be a lot poorer. Our current system does not allow that, so all of us have to have a breathing tax.

    By the way, how many of you know that Al Gore (the filthy son of a tobacco baron) has controlling shares in the corporations currently on tap to manage our carbon credits?

    ADDENDUM, dated October 24th, Written by me specifically for this post

    Some points that I’d like to add;

    1. This most certainly does not solve any debate about where our future should go, but it does provide enough ‘adjectives’ for the discerning individual to search out those scientists who ARE performing experiments that COULD have the POSSIBILITY to transform our way of life as we know it – IF enough people will take an interest in their own future.

    2. My step-dad lived near a gigantic wind farm in California as an adolescent in the early 70′s. He says they are unbelievably loud, nobody wants to live near them or farm the land around them for miles. And Californians knew about the bird population effects way back then.

    3. I live in Abbotsford and fought vehemently against SE2.

    4. I work in civil engineering and part of the studies of this field are – – about the Earth. The dirt, layers, the composition. I have worked on hydroelectric dam projects myself. I claim to be NO EXPERT, but I have maintained a sustained interest in the energy field for about 11 years now.

    5. I am 33 years old, married with 2.5 kids. They are the only vested interest I have in this entire energy scheme. I own no stock market shares.

    6. As of July 2009, there were 34 known flaws in the Classical EM Theory taught to every electrical engineer on the planet.

    They are as follows;

    (Spread these around, no university has an answer for why these questions HAVEN’T been answered). Perhaps their corporate endowment funds don’t allow such questions to be posed, let alone answered.

    Flaws in Classical EM Theory

    1. Eliminates the Internal EM Inside the
    Scalar Potential.

    2. No Definition of Electrical Charge or
    of Scalar Potential.

    3. Equations Still Assume Material Ether
    Per Maxwell (Unchanged).

    4. Use of Force Fields in Vacuum is False
    (and Known to be So).

    5. Treats Charge q as Unitary Instead of
    Coupled System q=ø(q)m(q).

    6. Confuses Massless Potential Gradients
    as Forces (See #3, #4).

    7. Does Not Utilize Mass as a Component
    of Force (See #23).

    8. Erroneously Assumes EM Force Field as
    Primary Causes.

    9. Topology of EM Model Has Been Substantially

    10. Does Not Include Quantum Potential or Action
    at a Distance.

    11. Does Not Include Superluminal Velocity of Inner
    EM Components.

    12. Does Not Utilize Extended Near-Field Coulomb
    Gauge Effects.

    13. Does Not Include EM Generatrix Mechanism
    For Time Flow.

    14. Does Not Unify Photon and Wave Aspects
    (Requires 7-D Model).

    15. Does Not Include Electron Spin and Precession
    (See #19, #24).

    16. Treats EM Energy As Existing in “Chunks,”
    Instead of as Flow.

    17. Confuses Energy and Energy Collection
    (See #16).

    18. Discards Half of Every EM Wave in Vacuum
    (See #22).

    19. Erroneously Uses Transverse Vacuum Wave;
    It’s Quasi-Longitudinal.

    20. Arbitrarily Regauges Maxwell’s Equations to
    Eliminate Overunity Maxwellian Systems.

    21. Omits Phase Conjugate Optics Effects
    (Which are the Rule in Internal EM).

    22. Does Not Include EM Cause of Newtonian
    Reaction Force.

    23. Erroneously Assumes Separate Force Acting
    on Separate Mass.

    24. Confuses Detected Electron Precession Waves
    as Proving Transverse EM Waves in Vacuum
    (Remnant of Old “EM Fluid” Concept).

    25. Due to Error in String Wave, Omits the
    Ubiquitous Antiwave.

    26. Assumes Equilibrium; Not True Unless Include
    Vacuum Interactions.

    27. Higher Toplogy Required, to Model
    Electromagnetic Reality.

    28. Lorentz surface integration discards Poynting
    energy transport.

    29. Has nothing at all to say about form of
    EM entities in massless space.

    30. Eliminates the infolded general relativity using
    EM-force as curve agent.

    31. Does not include longitudinal EM wave phase
    conjugate pairs as time domain oscillations.

    32. Does not include EM mechanism that generates
    time flow and flow rate.

    33. Does not include time-excitation charging
    and decay.

    34. Does not include time-reversal zones.

    ** Like every single thing man has ever developed; OF COURSE energy from the vacuum needs to be studied for it’s potential for pollution. Either affecting man, animal, plants, the earth, the moon, whatever. But at this point anything is better than acid rain/oceans or toxic fumes.

    But the facts still remain that Tesla and others re-discovered (since there is evidence ancient cultures knew this too) “the energetic equivalent of the electric salt of the universe” or sand of the universe if you like. Everyone has heard that statistic about the number of grains of sand on this planet outnumber the amount of known planets and stars in the universe.

    Ok, well, can you see an electron with your naked eye? no of course not. Can you see the energetic state of an electron before it becomes an electron, no of course not. An electron is made up of even smaller parts.

    These ‘even smaller parts’ appear to make up the bulk of quote unquote “empty space” of the universe. And if we cannot imagine how much sand that is, does anyone think we’ll run out of the “smaller parts” anytime soon? I mean, how old is the universe? And didn’t Einstein discover that “energy is neither created nor destroyed, it only changes form”? So this energetic salt of the universe should be around for another 3 or 4 billion years at least, right? All I’m doing is following a logical path of reasoning.

    We are tapping some of that energy right now with our Einstein described “changing-form technologies” but they massively pollute this planet to make electricity as we know it.

    We don’t have to use up all of our finite resources here on Earth. Water is a finite resource, so is coal, so are nuclear fuel rods, so is oil, so is natural gas, so is wind, so is bio-diesel, so is sugar-cane, and so is hydrogen.

    In my opinion, the concept of saving this planet with carbon taxes and individual reduction is INSANE, clincially speaking.

    I for one am sick & tired of listening to pseudo science sermons from the entrenched establishment pulpits!!!

    Therefore it’s high time that we rally as a people and tell our government paid scientific officials – no no no. There are better people to hire than YOU, and they needed to be hired YESTERYEAR.

    Don’t just sit there and laugh, or sigh, or whatever lazy excuse comes to you; RESEARCH IT

    “There is NO sustainability without INSISTING that NEW SCIENTISTS re-examine our ENTIRE CORRUPTED ELECTRICAL ENGINEERING MODEL!”

    The keywords are; radiant energy, Nikola Tesla, energy from the vacuum documentary series, Bedini monopole motor, Lee & Yang Nobel Prize winners, Aharanov-Bohm effect, Gabriel Kron, Floyd Sweet, C.O.P. (coefficient of performance), overunity