The biofuels equation: public opinion

From time to time we've mentioned the long-term investments at UGA in people and research on the issue of developing renewable energy sources. The university has cultivated a wide range of expertise on the subject that goes back decades. And all of that research on everything from fermentation of sugars in plant lignin to biodiesel and drought resistant strains of switchgrass would not be complete without also looking at public support for such efforts:

The Southeastern U.S. is poised to become a major producer of bioenergy, and a wide range of bioenergy technologies are now in various stages of development in the region. Will residents support the new ventures? Who will grow the biomass? Will those in established industries fight against it? These are but a few of the critical questions that citizens, policymakers and investors must answer if bioenergy is to become a viable alternative to fossil fuels.

Now, researchers from the University of Georgia and the U.S. Forest Service are conducting studies in locations throughout the biomass-rich Southeast to find answers to these questions and more. They hope their unique method of investigation, using a mix of complementary ethnographic methods, will provide a detailed understanding of public opinion about bioenergy while also providing policymakers and business owners with the information they need to make sustainable energy production thrive in their communities.

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"A big part of this kind of research is to listen to as many perspectives as possible," said Peter Brosius, professor of anthropology in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, director of the Center for Integrative Conservation Research and co-investigator in the study. "From there you begin to see patterns emerge."

The Center of Integrative Conservation Research is another of the visionary initiatives designed to bring together and leverage faculty expertise and energy in the direction of solutions to urgent problems. Public buy-in is crucial if we are to move toward the reality of biofuels as a transportation fuel alternative. Let's hope that this study and related efforts serve multiple purposes that include moving more of the public toward support for comprehensive conservation efforts.

 

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