Bridget Clark

My project, in partnership with the R&D “silo” of the California Energy Commission (CEC), is an examination of how we can conceive of and create measure of energy efficiency/consumption that can more fully capture how energy is actually being used among consumers, and identifying how these new measures, along with other institutional barriers that exist, effect the state’s ultimate goal to promote energy conservation. In this project, I have identified three separate publics. The first is the California Energy Commission itself. This state agency was found in the 1970s by Jerry Brown and serves as the chief energy planning and policy agency for the state of California. The second public is all energy consumers in California (ranging from residents to businesses). The third is energy policymakers and researchers, located outside of the CEC, who influence and construct energy policies.

In our second week of seminar we were confronted with the Walter Lippmann’s notion of the pseudoenvironment, i.e. the “picture in our heads” or rather our subjective interpretations of the world. We were asked to identify the nature and key actors in our public’s pseudoenvironment and the role we might play as Public Scholars in effecting that pseudoenvironment. To quote Lippmann at length,

“In all … instances we must note particularly one common factor. It is the insertion between man and his environment of a pseudo-environment. To that pseudo-environment his behavior is a response. But because it is behavior is stimulated, but in the real environment where actions eventuates… when the stimulus of pseudo fact results in action on things or other people contradiction soon develops… For certainly, at the level of social life, what is called the adjustment of man to his environment takes place through the medium of fictions. By fictions I do not mean lies. I mean a representation of the environment, which is in lesser or greater degree made by man himself. The range of fiction extends all the way from complete hallucination to the scientists’ perfectly self conscious use of a schematic model,” (1922: 6-7).

My project deals most directly with examining the “fictions” created by the scientists’ models in mediating the pseudoenvironment of California’s energy consumption. In the last few decades we have made significant gains in increasing the energy efficiency of appliance, housing and building designs, etc. Nevertheless, it is still unclear as to whether these gains in efficiency are actually achieving California’s goal to conserve energy or whether a contradiction has developed. Part of this has to do with the ways in which we have attempted to quantify energy use. For example, residential energy use can be measured in terms of net energy used per million capita or total energy use per capita. However, an examination of these two measures over the last 40 years leads to wildly different conclusions about energy use in the era of “Energy Efficiency”. The net energy “fiction” indicates a downward tend in energy use, whereas the total energy use “fictions” indicates a stagnate trend in residential energy use- that energy use has not changed between 1975 and 2011- all of this despite more efficient appliances and rapid population growth (Moezzi 2015).

Thus in part, my project, can be thought of as an engagement with the second public, energy consumers, to uncover how they are actually using energy in order to understand how this can be better translated into measures useful to my other two publics- the CEC and the larger energy policy community, to augment the pseudoenvironment of California’s energy consumption and policy. It is all of our hopes that these new measures might align more directly with the “real” environment and that this might start to produce policies, which eventually achieve California’s energy conservation goals and start to ameliorate the effects the climate change.

 

Lippmann, Walter. 1922. Public Opinion. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co.

Moezzi, Mithra. 2015. “Numbers, stories, energy efficiency”. In Proceedings of the 2015 ECEEE Summer Study Proceedings. European Council for an Energy Efficient Economy.