Atmosphere right for education about greenhouse gas technologies

By Jane Garcia

Public and government interest in climate change and greenhouse gas emissions has grown rapidly over the past year.

However, the majority of people participating in a survey conducted by the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) and recently published in Swinburne University’s <I>Australian Journal of Emerging Technologies and Society<I> indicated they did not know enough about the new technologies that could potentially reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Report author, QUT’s Dr Evonne Miller, said it was extremely important that the public was well informed and comfortable with “technology and processes that are used to extract carbon from the atmosphere, and different ways that carbon is stored after its extraction”. These are referred to as carbon dioxide capture and storage (CCS) technologies.

The study surveyed 1273 Australians and found that while 58 per cent thought it was important for the country to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, only 21 per cent were confidant that CCS would be safe and could be carefully regulated.

About 85 per cent of respondents said they would need more information to form a clear opinion about storing carbon underground.

“The problem is complex and so is the solution,” she said.
”What we need to do as a society is talk – and we are starting to talk more –  about the different options, how they work and what are the risks and what are the benefits. We need to weigh it up against the risk of doing nothing versus the risk of doing something.”

About 43 per cent of survey respondents admitted to not following the greenhouse gas debate closely or at all. Dr Miller said the survey was conducted at the end of 2005, and she expected more people were now following the issue.

“If we re-did this survey today, we’d find that the majority of people would be aware and really concerned. Even in our study we found that nearly half said they’d be willing to come along to a public debate about these issues and that’s a really positive thing,” she said.
“The other thing that was really surprising and really positive was that people were quite neutral about carbon capture and storage technology.
“For the majority – we did this online survey – it was the first time they’d heard about it. They knew little more than what we told them about it, which was just a paragraph, and the majority of people said ‘oh, that sounds interesting, we want to learn more’.”

Dr Miller said the key message for governments and policymakers was that people wanted to learn and were really open-minded about these kinds of technologies at the present time. Younger respondents, those aged under 35, “were more likely to completely trust and believe information from official information providers such as government departments”.

“It’s a really promising time for community engagement and for education and partnerships,” she said.
“We should use this time when people are really interested in the greenhouse gas debate and the problem, and are looking for solutions. Even in the media in the last six months to a year, there has been significantly more discussion about what we can do and what Australia can do.”

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