Opinion: Energy is key to our health and wealth, yet the public understands little about it
We tolerate energy illiteracy at our own risk.
Question: What is the one essential thing that we all need — and expect — all the time in everything we do, and yet know precious little about?
In an era of having access to all past and present knowledge ever created in all of recorded history, how is it that we can know and appreciate so little about the one thing that makes modern life in 2021 possible? Energy education is not only beneficial to those who seek it, it is also absolutely critical to our collective survival.
Energy determines the economic wealth or poverty of every nation in the world. And energy is so much more than just putting gas in the tank of our cars. In addition to gasoline for our cars and trucks, there is jet fuel for our airplanes, diesel for our ships, trains and trucks, and propane for home heating, not to mention a long list of other energy-creating compounds contained in oil and natural gas alone.
Then, there is electricity. The demand for dependable, continuous, affordable electricity in this high-tech world is only growing and doing so exponentially. Whether the energy sources for that electricity are natural gas, wind, solar, hydro, nuclear or all of the above, we in the developed countries expect it at all times, and those in developing countries understandably aspire to that expectation, too.
The recent collapse in the Texas electricity grid was a painful but clarifying lesson on the importance of understanding the role energy plays in our daily lives, and even our survival. At least for now, Texans have become much more interested in how we create energy, where it comes from, the advantages and disadvantages different energy sources present, and who makes the decisions on our access to the energy we need every day. Is it better to simply depend on our leaders, or shouldn’t we know more about the subject ourselves?
Energy education might sound abstract and theoretical, but it is perhaps the most necessary and practical education of all. Most people in the U.S. are the beneficiaries of such a well-developed economy that they have been lulled into having energy at their fingertips and never having to think twice about what makes that possible.
Energy illiteracy abounds, unfortunately, throughout our population, and even in our educational institutions. We tolerate that illiteracy at our own risk. To lead effectively on energy matters requires educated leaders. Energy knowledge leads to more informed and effective energy policy. Universities are the obvious institutions to take on this critical task of educating our next generation on energy. If we don’t, who will?
Ignorance leads to dependence; and dependence leads to a place none of us should want to go.
William R. Keffer is a professor of energy law and director of Energy Law Programs in the Texas Tech University School of Law. He wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.