The Coal Hard Truth

Sunday, September 6, 2009 - 1:15pm

Coal has long been synonymous with America’s industrial heritage and economic expansion. That doesn’t have to change: the United States has a 300-year supply of coal waiting to be tapped, a predicament that is at the heart of many policy and environmental debates today.

Despite our historical reliance on coal, though, only 42 percent of surveyed eighth-grade students know that coal is the most abundant fossil fuel found in the U.S. And only 26 percent know that coal is used to produce the most energy across the country. 

According to Al Bodzin, associate professor of teaching, learning and technology, the numbers show that American students simply have not attained conceptual understanding of energy-related issues. The results come from a 39-question Energy Resources Knowledge Assessment, a questionnaire Bodzin modeled on specific energy literacy goals set forth by the American Association for the Advancement of Science and other prominent education associations and agencies. More than one thousand students in two northeastern U.S. school districts participated in the study.

Other findings include:

  • Only 13 percent knew that petroleum (crude oil) and natural gas come from plankton and sea life that are millions of years old.
  • Only 41 percent knew the electrical grid is a network of power transmission lines that connect across the U.S. to transport electricity.
  • Just 25 percent knew the heating and cooling of rooms was the most energy-consuming use of energy in U.S. households.