UNIVERSITY STUDENT PERCEPTIONS OF THE CURRENT AND FUTURE ROLE OF NON-CARBON EMITTING ENERGY SOURCES IN THE WORLD
Free (open access)
Volume 2 (2017), Issue 3
277 - 287
ROBERT L. MAHLER & MICHAEL E. BARBER
This article documents university student perceptions of the role and viability of non-carbon emitting energy sources in the short term (1 to 3 years) and medium term (10 to 30 years) for Earth. Consequently, the perceptions of 7,980 students at the University of Idaho (Moscow, ID, USA) about the future of geothermal energy (G), hydropower energy (H), nuclear power (NP), ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC), solar energy (S) and wind energy (W) were measured between 1993 and 2016. All students were enrolled in the introductory environmental science class. Two survey instruments were used to gather this data. The first survey instrument evaluated six energy sources in 1994, 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2014. The second instrument focused on questions about nuclear energy. In the first survey a significant portion of the students considered solar, wind and nuclear power to be viable non-emitting carbon energy sources in the medium-term (10 to 30 years) future. Also, students taking the survey in later years (2006, 2010, 2014) were much more likely to consider non-carbon energy sources viable in the near and mid-term than students taking the survey in 1994, 1998 and 2002. In general, 46.7% of students considered nuclear power a serious problem at the beginning of the course; however, at the end of the term less than 36% of students still held their initial negative opinion. In addition, a significant majority of the students changed from indicating that fossil fuels were preferable to nuclear energy, an opinion they held at the beginning of the course, to favoring or at least saying that nuclear power was no worse than fossil fuels at the conclusion of the term. The significant findings of this study were: (1) students considered both solar and wind energy viable alternatives that have the potential to be significant on a world-wide basis within 30 years; (2) students saw only a limited expansion of hydropower and geothermal energy in the next 30 years; and (3) once students were educated in an unbiased way – including both the pros and cons of using nuclear energy – they were more receptive to view the nuclear power option favorably.
non-carbon energy sources, nuclear education, nuclear energy concerns, solar, student perceptions, wind