Tricking Americans to Slow Global Warming
- 2009/12/11 03:22:04
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Yes, you would, if a recent exercise in energy savings is any indication.
In a recent article, the Washington Post reports that OPOWER, an energy efficiency software company, has been mailing reports to utility customers in twelve areas across the country, hoping to incite peer pressure to get them to conserve energy:
“The sheets compare each customer's power usage to that of neighbors with similar houses and offer tips for catching up, such as turning off lights and lowering the temperature settings of water heaters. It works, the company says, lowering electricity usage by 2 percent in several test cases.”
What’s more, the article notes that these mailings don’t mention one word about climate change.
This intriguing tidbit was buried at the end of a long article exploring the psychological motivations behind Americans’ general unwillingness to take action against the growing problem of greenhouse gas emissions. One psychologist’s theory? We’re just lazy:
“'We are collectively irrational, in the sense that we should really care about the long-term well-being of the planet but when we get up in the morning it's very hard to motivate ourselves,’ said Dan Ariely, a professor of behavioral economics at Duke University, who gave a keynote speech last month at a Washington conference devoted to understanding why people don't do more to save energy.”
Apparently, psychologists have uncovered a number of other reasons why Americans refuse to step up and support the environment: we’re in denial, we can only worry about so many things at a time, and we have a “deep-seated desire for the status quo and [a] willingness to defend it.”
According to a recent poll, fewer Americans now believe global warming exists despite ample evidence to the contrary. (And I’m no mathemetician, but it seems wildly irresponsible to say that one hapless British scientist’s poor judgment negates a host of research proving the earth is getting hotter.)
In any case, the “keeping up with the Joneses” strategy embraced by OPOWER has the potential to reap substantial benefits. In an interview with the SolveClimate blog, the company’s president, Alex Laskey, predicts that the approach “could help cut back on the 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions that come from residential electricity use and produce savings equivalent to taking six million cars off the road.”
Considering that so many of us are doing virtually nothing, the idea of tricking America into saving energy seems like a good one. What’s to lose? Americans are social animals. We even gain weight in groups, as a 2007 study found. And for better or for worse, we’re characterized by our competitiveness. So why not put our cutthroat qualities to work, and help save the planet while we’re at it?
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