Many Americans believe they can save energy with small behavior changes that actually achieve very little, and severely underestimate the major effects of switching to efficient, currently available technologies, says a new survey of Americans in 34 states. The study, which quizzed people on what they perceived as the most effective way to save energy, appears in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The largest group, nearly 20 percent, cited turning off lights as the best approachan action that affects energy budgets relatively little. Very few cited buying decisions that experts say would cut U.S. energy consumption dramatically, such as more efficient cars (cited by only 2.8 percent), more efficient appliances (cited by 3.2 percent) or weatherizing homes (cited by 2.1 percent). Previous researchers have concluded that households could reduce their energy consumption some 30 percent by making such choicesall without waiting for new technologies, making big economic sacrifices or losing their sense of well-being.
Lead author Shahzeen Attari, a postdoctoral fellow at Columbia University's Earth Institute and the university's Center for Research on Environmental Decisions, said multiple factors probably are driving the misperceptions. "When people think of themselves, they may tend to think of what they can do that is cheap and easy at the moment," she said. On a broader scale, she said, even after years of research, scientists, government, industry and environmental groups may have "failed to communicate" what they know about the potential of investments in technology; instead, they have funded recycling drives and encouraged actions like turning off lights. In general, the people surveyed tend to believe in what Attari calls curtailment. "That is, keeping the same behavior, but doing less of it," she said. "But switching to efficient technologies generally allows you to maintain your behavior, and save a
|Contact: Kevin Krajick|
The Earth Institute at Columbia University