I recently became aware of a new publication from the Department of Energy entitled "Energy Literacy: Essential Principles and Fundamental Concepts for Energy Education."
Available as a free download (search on the Internet for "energy literacy"), this document is the result of a broad collaboration led by the Department of Energy and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
In all, 13 federal agencies and 23 science and educational organizations contributed to this comprehensive guide addressing one of the most pivotal issues that affects human society. I highly recommend this guide to all interested parties, whether you are a student or a Ph.D. researcher in the energy field, you will find something interesting that's likely to make you think of things in a new light.
One of the most attractive aspects of the document is that its only agenda is to educate. Absent are the alarmist predictions about climate change or the horrific economic impacts we might encounter if we abandon fossil fuels.
Just the facts, ma'am; but that's plenty scary enough. Let me explain.
The guide is broken down in seven sections, each containing a few simple statements of fact about energy. These statements are described in a bit more detail with the occasional chart or photograph thrown in.
Upon reading this guide, you will better understand a variety of important issues. For example, in Section 3, you'll see why some people choose a vegetarian diet based on the argument that it's more energy efficient, Section 5 gives you a clear snapshot of how the world governments support various energy sources (spoiler alert: fossil fuels subsidies outpace those for renewable 6 to 1).
But there are three of these statements that really caught my eye. If you can wrap your head around these, you'll be far along in understanding why the energy debate is so important. The three statements are: "Earth has limited energy resources," "Human demand for energy is increasing" and "Access to energy resources affects quality of life."
I was certainly aware of all three of these facts and I'll go so far as to say that none of them are seriously disputed. But I know that I have not really thought about the implication of all three at once. Limited resources, increasing demand and the desire to improve our lots in life put the people of this planet on a collision course of disastrous potential.
Yes, we should celebrate our new-found good fortune of domestic oil and gas production, but know that it, too, is finite. The end may be 100 years from now or only a few decades, but the end of fossil fuel production will come, and when it does we (humanity) best be ready.
As David MacKay, a Cambridge (U.K.) physicist and leader in the energy literacy movement is fond of saying, we need to have adult conversations about energy. And the only way to do that is if we have an adult understanding of the issues. This energy literacy guide is an awfully good start.
John Gardner is a professor of mechanical and biomedical engineering at Boise State University and director of the CAES Energy Efficiency Research Institute.