Research from Australia's Swinburne University shows that the majority of Australians are more comfortable with the idea of wind farms than with the Internet or nuclear power.
The reports were part of the annual study of how people feel about technological change. The National Technology and Society Monitor also found most people are still not comfortable with genetically modified plants and animals for food, despite a government report to the contrary.
Every year, the nationwide survey is carried out by a team of researchers at the Australian Center for Emerging Technologies and Society. The reports largely reflect views of the overall population.
According to Director of the Center, Professor Michael Gilding, most people now are quite comfortable with the Internet but the results do also reflect the fact that some people have been left behind, and these lot are not comfortable with it. "What is striking is this high level of comfort with wind farms. However, for most people it's an abstract kind of support because they don't live near wind farms and don't have much to do with them," Gilding explained.
Gilding added that even though the same could be said for nuclear plants, there is still widespread discomfort with them. "In the last twelve months we've seen the issue come back onto the public agenda, but the mood of the public hasn't shifted and people remain highly concerned about the technology."
The survey also found gender to influence ratings of comfort about nuclear power. Also, Liberal voters were found to be more comfortable with nuclear power than Labor voters.
Another interesting finding in the Monitor report, according to Gilding, is people's reactions to genetically modified food and animals. The survey found just over half of those questioned were uncomfortable with GM plants, while two thirds felt the same way about GM animals for food. "In this country, governments are in fact moving towards a more permissive position on genetically modified plants, and earlier this year, a government report suggested landmark shifts in attitudes," expresses Gilding. "But in the Monitor, there wasn't any change in reaction to genetically modified plants and overall most people remain uncomfortable with GM agriculture. There's certainly no evidence for a major sea change on that score", he observes.
Other findings were that most people were quite comfortable with the rate of change in the world today, with men being significantly more comfortable than women, and young people more comfortable than older people.
According to Professor Gilding, Australians are on the whole optimistic about technology. The annual survey shows that Australians believe science and technology are continually improving the quality of life, he adds. However, Gilding points out that this optimism should not be taken for granted as it depends heavily upon confidence in public and scientific institutions.