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Public Thinking about the Energy Problem: Choices for an Uncertain Future (NIF Report)

In National Issues Forums (NIF) in 42 states and the District of Columbia, diverse groups of Americans came together in 2007 to deliberate for up to three hours about one of the major challenges facing the country, the energy problem.  As forum participants deliberated, they increasingly came to see that the energy problem is a short- and long-term threat to this nation’s economic well-being, national security, and environment. By the end of the forums, many felt that a number of steps could be taken to deal with the issue. Find more details & order info on the NIF website. From the report’s conclusion…

Among other measures, there was strong support for a major effort aimed at persuading Americans to use less energy. People felt that conservation will be successful and the American people will do their part if public lead- ers actively initiate and coordinate such efforts. A man in the Hempstead forum asserted, “We need leadership…. That’s the role of government. That is one of the things that government can do.” Others echoed this point, including a Phoenix man who said, “The reality is government needs to take the lead. We need to be aware, so that at least we are making an effort.” In Athens participants felt that government had to help people understand the need to conserve.

Many forum participants were optimistic about the country’s ability to solve the energy problem, excited about energy alternatives, and strongly supportive of a major national effort to conserve. At the same time, a large number of participants said the country is not likely to solve the energy problem until a national crisis focuses Americans’ attention on the problem.

Beyond the general consensus about the need for a sharp stimulus to public action on energy, a subtle but important shift had taken place in the way forum participants talked about the energy problem as the forums came to a close. Participants increasingly saw the interrelatedness of the problem, made connections and began to see things more holistically. As a Hempstead man noted, “I think the word we like to use here is multifaceted because we need to focus short-term [and] long-term … [and] get at it from every direction.”

More about National Issues Forums and their Reports on the Issues…

The National Issues Forums (NIF) network includes civic, educational, and other organizations, and individuals, whose common interest is to promote public deliberation in America. NIF issue guides introduce participants to several choices or approaches to consider. Rather than conforming to any single public proposal, each choice reflects widely held concerns and principles. Panels of experts review manuscripts to make sure the choices are presented accurately and fairly. Look through all the NIF issue guides and their corresponding moderator guides, DVDs, and other resources at www.nifi.org/issue_books.

Reports are published periodically to communicate the outcomes of forums held across the nation about a particular issue. Making use of participants’ answers to forum questionnaires, reports from moderators, and in-depth studies of selected forums, these reports describe in some detail what happened as people deliberated about the issue at hand. View all NIF Reports on the Issues at www.nifi.org/reports/issues.aspx.

Resource Link: www.nifi.org/reports/detail_issues.aspx?catID=17&itemID=10575

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