Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences

, Volume 4, Issue 4, pp 354–359 | Cite as

Energy education and the dilemma of mitigating climate change

  • John H. PerkinsEmail author
  • Catherine Middlecamp
  • David Blockstein
  • Jennifer Rivers Cole
  • Robert H. Knapp
  • Kathleen M. Saul
  • Shirley Vincent


This study argues that enhanced energy education will help resolve the dilemmas of mitigating climate change and thus promote sustainability. Without enhanced energy literacy among both the energy workforce and citizens, society will be hard-pressed to make strategic choices about energy. We build on previous work that defined energy literacy and piloted programs to teach Energy 101 classes. We present a Sankey diagram of the US energy economy as a novel way to orient students to the entire energy economy, not just individual fuels. Higher education must provide two distinct pathways, one for the general education of all students and one for students in programs that specialize in energy in preparation for joining the energy workforce. Four challenges face faculty and administrators: accommodating diversity in the student body, rewarding faculty, building new curricular pathways and courses, and integrating theory and practice. More concerted action is needed despite recent reports of reductions in carbon emissions and some growth of energy education. The changes to date are small, politically contested, and inadequately supported. Institutions need to build new programs and communicate their progress to peers. This paper’s novelty lies in (a) the argument that inadequate energy education hinders the development of sustainability education, (b) the distinctions made between climate and energy education, (c) identification of major steps needed and challenges to be expected in energy education, and (d) the proposition that reform must jointly address both general students and students specializing in energy.


Energy education Sustainability Climate change 



A portion of this work was supported by NSF grant 12-26492. Perkins thanks Susan Jenkins of the Energy Biosciences Institute, University of California, Berkeley, for support as a Visiting Scholar.


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Copyright information

© AESS 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • John H. Perkins
    • 1
    • 3
    Email author
  • Catherine Middlecamp
    • 2
  • David Blockstein
    • 3
  • Jennifer Rivers Cole
    • 4
  • Robert H. Knapp
    • 1
  • Kathleen M. Saul
    • 1
    • 5
  • Shirley Vincent
    • 3
  1. 1.The Evergreen State CollegeOlympiaUSA
  2. 2.The Nelson Institute for Environmental StudiesUniversity of Wisconsin-MadisonMadisonUSA
  3. 3.Council of Energy Research and Education LeadersNational Council for Science and the EnvironmentWashingtonUSA
  4. 4.Earth and Planetary SciencesHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA
  5. 5.Center for Energy & Environmental PolicyUniversity of DelawareNewarkUSA

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