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Energy Use: The Human Dimension
have frequently been surprised when well-engineered energy technologies fail to work as expected, or when carefully planned policies or programs are greeted with public apathy or opposition, or when energy users behave very differently from what was predicted or expected. Often the surprise is traceable to the fact that the analysts had not paid enough attention to crucial processes in individuals, organizations, or social institutions. There is a body of empirical knowledge about individual and social behavior that can help avoid or cope with such surprises, but this knowledge has been largely ignored by policy makers.2 Only a few examples are needed to illustrate how, by taking the human dimension more fully into account in energy policy, the nation could render the prospect of energy crisis less threatening, make important energy production technologies more reliable, and enable the public to make better informed choices about energy use.
Responses to Oil Shortages
In 1979, a minor shortfall in oil supplies led to widespread hoarding of oil products, long lines at gas pumps, the installation of dangerous extra fuel containers in private cars, and even occasional violence in the form of fistfights and shootings. The energy policy community responded with proposals designed to keep gas lines from forming as a way of preventing such unexpected and antisocial behavior in the next period of shortage. But these proposed alternatives were based more on reactions to a politically unacceptable situation than on a careful analysis of behavior in crisis situations. Such reactive policy making runs the risk of substituting a new difficulty for the old one. For example, one way to make shortages disappear is to allow prices to rise. This could eliminate gas lines by making it prohibitively expensive for some people to buy gasoline. Under the conditions of 1979, such a policy may have been better than what actually occurred. But if this policy were practiced in a serious shortfall, the frustration and deprivation that would follow uncontrolled price increases might greatly increase other undesired effects, such as the siphoning of gas from gasoline tanks, vandalism or robbery of gasoline stations, or random acts of aggression. A policy of offsetting price increases by taxing the increase and recycling the tax revenue would prevent deprivation only if the recycled revenues were to reach the neediest segments of the population very quickly and effectively. So far, these issues seem not to have been carefully considered.
Reactive policies fall short in a more fundamental way as well. They are based on implicit acceptance of an energy system that is organized to make planning for gasoline emergencies a necessity, rather than on a view that the energy system might be restructured, for example, to decrease the dependence on automobiles, the prime users of gasoline.
The human dimension of energy is important both in understanding