My name is Goda Perlaviciute. I am a researcher in the group of environmental psychology at the University of Groningen. I will discuss how people develop their evaluations and acceptability ratings of energy policies, and what role people’s values play in this process. You already learned that energy behaviours contribute to environmental problems, and you have heard about different ways to change these behaviours. This requires a wide range of changes in energy policies and energy systems. However, in democratic societies, energy policies and energy system changes cannot be implemented if they lack public support. For example, smart grids cannot be realised if people do not accept the related technology, and are not willing to adjust their energy behaviours to the availability of energy supply.
Also, a number of wind energy projects have come to a halt because of opposition from local communities. Similarly, carbon capture and storage facilities, shale gas developments, and nuclear energy projects have met fierce public opposition. It is very important to understand which factors predict public acceptability of such developments, and to study whether, and how, public concerns regarding these developments can be addressed. And if not, whether these developments should at all be implemented. At the same time, some people support these developments. And people even differ in how they evaluate these developments. It is especially interesting to explore what drives individual differences in evaluations and acceptability ratings. We define public acceptability as the extent to which people generally favour or disfavour energy policies.
This can be expressed as negative, positive, or neutral attitudes towards energy policies. Or it can be expressed as behaviour. For example, voting in favour or against certain policies, protesting, or signing a petition. People prefer energy policies that are perceived to have more benefits and less costs. But, of course, every energy policy has a mixture of different costs and benefits. How do people weigh these costs and benefits? And how do they build their acceptability ratings? Why do different people evaluate the pros and cons of same energy policies differently? Values play an important role in this respect. The four types of values, which you already know, namely egoistic, hedonic, altruistic, and biospheric values influence public acceptability of energy policies.
I will give examples on how these values affect acceptability of various energy alternatives, such as renewable energy sources and nuclear energy. But keep in mind that values may influence, in a similar way, acceptability of many different energy policies and changes in energy systems. For example, acceptability of energy technology and energy pricing schemes. How acceptable people find energy alternatives depends on what implications they expect for their important values. People with strong egoistic values evaluate nuclear energy more positively, probably because they expect it to be relatively cheap and available at all times. In contrast, strong egoistic values lead to less positive evaluations of renewable energy sources, probably because people associate them with high financial costs and intermittent energy supply.
Let’s look at how biospheric values influence acceptability of these energy alternatives. This is an interesting question, because both renewable energy sources and nuclear energy are promoted as sustainable energy alternatives. And that should be important for those who strongly endorse biospheric values. In fact, people who strongly endorse biospheric values evaluate renewable energy sources more positively, but they evaluate nuclear energy more negatively. Stronger biospheric values even lead to overall negative evaluations of nuclear energy, including its environmental consequences, such as CO2 emissions. This suggests that promoting nuclear energy as sustainable may not trigger positive evaluations among those with strong biospheric values. This is most likely due to associations with nuclear accidents and nuclear waste, which threaten people’s biospheric values.
Because of this, people with strong biospheric values may be motivated to evaluate all consequences of nuclear energy negatively, and to not consider its possible environmental benefits. Interestingly, particularly people with strong egoistic values praise the environmental benefits of nuclear energy, even though environmental consequences are not the most important to them, given their key values. These examples show us that values can help understand individual differences in evaluations of energy policies. Energy production, distribution, and supply are very complex matters, which means that people have to rely on the expertise of such parties as energy companies, scientists, NGOs, and policymakers. How much people trust these parties will influence their acceptability of energy policies. Values, again, play an important role in this respect.
People will put more trust in parties that they think share similar values as their own values. To summarise, public acceptability is key for implementing energy policies and changes in energy systems. Values are important factors that influence public acceptability. People prefer energy policies that support their important values.