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Energy Use: The Human Dimension
unwilling to build energy information programs on principles of effective communication. This unwillingness is partly based on a fear of manipulation by government and on the notion that government should be responsive to the public, not the other way around. But there are some inconsistencies in the view of the proper government role. For example, it is considered appropriate in the United States for government to offer strong financial incentives such as low-interest loans, tax credits, and excise taxes to influence citizens and organizations to conform to the intent of public policy. It is usually considered proper to proscribe behavior with regulations, and to attach civil or criminal penalties. It is also considered appropriate for public officials, notably the president and cabinet members, to use access to mass media in attempts to persuade citizens to support their policies—or even their policy proposals. And it is considered appropriate for government agencies to use the media to argue against drug use and to promote good nutrition and other public welfare measures, although only if media access is available at no cost. It has usually been considered inappropriate, however, for the U.S. government to use paid advertising to persuade people to do what public policy implies or requires. And government agencies rarely employ communications professionals to design informational materials for maximum impact. Government agencies are in a bind: they can aid public policy by providing citizens with information, but they are seriously constrained as to methods. The guiding philosophy has been to make information passive, leaving energy users mainly responsible for searching out, selecting, and interpreting available information.
The roots of this situation are a fascinating part of the human dimension of energy. Clearly, political pressure from affected interests as well as legitimate of manipulation have a role in the design of particular informational programs. This is why some energy information programs have been pursued more aggressively than others and why the importance given energy information, and the form it takes, changes with national administrations. In particular, the Carter and Reagan administrations differed in their views of the proper role of the federal government in energy information.
While U.S. policy may change with administrations, the range of approaches taken in the United States is rather narrow. This can be easily seen by comparison with Canadian government information programs. Figures 4, 5, and 6 are reproductions of full-page newspaper advertisements purchased by the Canadian government’s Ministry of Energy, Mines, and Resources in the late 1970s. In several ways, these informational efforts do things that U.S. government energy information programs have never done. They are, first of all, paid media advertising. Second, they are clearly promotional in tone. And third, they attack, in fairly direct ways, the interests of energy producers and automobile companies.