Electricity Saving Behaviours and Energy Literacy of New Zealand Children
Energy consumption is one of the most pressing issues facing society today, owing to the global energy crisis, climate change, and environmental degradation. Children represent the decision makers of the future and contribute to energy consumption in the present, yet remain understudied. This thesis draws on the theory of planned behaviour and energy literacy (knowledge, attitudes, and intended behaviour) to investigate how children in Dunedin, New Zealand, use electricity in their households, their efforts to save it, and the factors influencing them to acquire electricity saving practices. Furthermore, this study examines the children’s potential to encourage their families to adopt energy efficient practices. The research is interdisciplinary and mainly qualitative (thematic analysis), but supported by quantitative methods (content and correspondence analyses). Data were collected through individual interviews with 26 children (9–10 years old) and their parents and teachers, surveys filled in by parents, focus groups with children, and photo elicitation. Very few of the children perform electricity saving behaviours voluntarily, consistently, and with the intention to save power. Most of them try to save electricity for financial reasons, and many do not have a clearly developed attitude towards saving energy. The children’s attitudes and behaviours are largely determined by their parents, and dependent on their level of control over electrical appliances. Attitudes and behaviours are formed through separate, parallel processes, with the former generally being passed on directly through conversations (although they sometimes also arise from an environmental identity or pre-existing behaviours), whereas the latter are acquired through modelling, rules and reminders. The children’s knowledge about electricity production is mostly fragmented and learnt informally, with very few of the children understanding the relationship between electricity use and environmental issues. Relevant information is generally being neither transmitted nor structured by the parents or school, although the latter still has at least a small effect on the children’s basic knowledge and attitudes. Because of the children’s limited energy knowledge and attitudes, as well as their lack of intended behaviour, they cannot be considered energy literate. Finally, none of the children are successfully influencing their families to adopt new electricity saving practices, likely because of their limited practical knowledge, and the lack of an intention to help save energy to a further extent. Thus, their agency is currently confined to repeating their parents’ reminders, although there are several indications that it could be developed further through appropriate guidance. All of the findings of this research are summarised in a comprehensive model illustrating the development of children’s electricity saving practices, including rational and unconscious approaches, as well as several parallel, interconnected processes for developing energy literacy and behaviours. This model is the first to explain children’s socialisation into saving energy, provides insights into rarely researched processes affecting primary school children in their home context, and represents the first analysis of children’s energy literacy and practices in New Zealand. In addition, this thesis makes a methodological contribution, demonstrates children’s naivety as regards energy issues, and provides recommendations for educators, parents, policy makers and designers.
Advisor: Lawson, Rob; Stephenson, Janet; Todd, Sarah
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: Geography
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: Energy; children; electricity; literacy; behaviour; attitudes; agency; socialisation
Research Type: Thesis