HYDRAULIC FRACTURING AND THE MARCELLUS SHALE: A CASE STUDY FOR EMERGENT ENERGY ISSUES AND FOR TEACHING CONTROVERSIAL ISSUES
Community polarization is common when energy development is proposed, and residents justifiably focus on the question: Is this bad for the environment? Without contextualization, the answer is invariably “yes.” A more appropriate context-dependent question might be, “Is this better or worse for the environment than what we are doing now, or might reasonably do in the near future, to meet our energy needs?”
Enhanced interest in energy brings opportunity to help audiences learn about Earth and environmental systems. Education regarding the Marcellus Shale serves as a case study for both developing outreach approaches for emergent energy issues and for how these issues relate to the teaching of other controversial topics. Our goal is to develop heuristic approaches that others can adapt to their community’s needs before polarization becomes entrenched. Strategies include networking formal and informal educators within communities to develop energy education programming.
PRI also has extensive outreach experience with contentious topics such as biological evolution and climate change. These issues share common needs for understanding the nature of science, evidence-based knowledge, systems thinking, and consideration of processes across multiple scales of time and space. Approaches are further enhanced by understandings of learners’ prior conceptions, careful use of neutral language, and respect for cultural backgrounds. Each topic also has unique qualities, in the depth of previous scientific research, range of impacts, and implications for policymaking.