You Probably Think You’re Greener Than You Actually Are.

Shahzeen Attari is a researcher at Columbia’s Earth Institute, and she focuses on human interactions with climate change and environmental issues.  She says:

1) When asked about the most effective thing they can do to conserve energy in their lives, participants think of cutting back on activities (curtailment) rather than investing in new technologies/equipment (efficiency). In addition, about 20% of our participants stated that the most effective thing they could do was “turn off the lights” — a behavior that may not be very effective to address energy consumption and climate change. 

2) People can roughly rank order devices correctly in terms of how much energy they use, i.e., they know that a dishwasher uses more energy than a laptop in one hour, however they underestimate energy consumption by over an order of magnitude for large devices (such as air conditioners, dishwashers etc.). This may be particularly problematic if coupled with the single action bias, where individuals may simply turn off the light and think they have done their part to address climate change. 

3) People who are good at math and who are pro-environmental have more accurate perceptions of energy consumption — however people who currently incorporate some of these green behaviors have worse perceptions of energy consumption. One reason may be that they focus on the behaviors they currently do and discount other behaviors. 

I find this last one particularly interesting, and very true.  People (am I one of them?) think that because they do one thing (turn off the lights, change out a lightbulb or 2, use a reuseable water bottle…), that they’ve done their part.  It’s important to keep pushing your limits.  What can you do without?  What can you make automatic ( thermostat or  turn down your water heater) so that your behavior or preferences or laziness don’t get in the way? Every little bit helps.


About Gina Coleman

My goal in life is to be as good of a person my dog already thinks I am.
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