Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


Americans Willing to Go Green, But Dislike Mandates

• March 16, 2009 • 8:15 PM

 

As scientists reiterated at a just-concluded conference in Copenhagen, climate change is a serious but solvable problem. So what role should governments play to persuade the populace to take the necessary actions? A paper recently published in the journal Ecological Economics provides some clues.

In 2006, researchers from Carnegie Mellon University asked people in Pittsburgh about the extent to which the government should encourage environmentally friendly behavior. A remarkable 80 percent of respondents favored “soft regulations” such as tax incentives to encourage the purchase of more energy-efficient cars.

After being informed of the social costs of gas-guzzling SUVs and light trucks, 67 percent of people surveyed expressed willingness to sign a pledge stating they would avoid such models the next time they purchase a vehicle. Some survey takers framed the issue in terms of environmental degradation, while others emphasized the national-security issue (i.e., the threat of relying on imported oil), but the two-thirds number held steady either way.

However, only 30 percent of respondents agreed with the notion that the government should have the power to restrict the purchase of such vehicles.

A second question on “green energy” — that is, electricity generated from renewable sources such as wind farms — received a similar response. Seventy-six percent of people said they’d pledge to buy green energy from their power company; 69 percent favored tax incentives to encourage others to do so. However, only 39 percent expressed the view the government should make the purchase of such energy (which comes at a higher cost than energy from conventional sources) mandatory.

“Our results suggest that there may be more public buy-in for softer regulations such as market-based mechanisms intended to change behavior,” write the researchers, who noted that “the need for personal freedom and choice was the most frequently mentioned reason by participants who did not want to accept hard regulations.”

The results confirm the notion that Americans chafe at the notion of strict rules, even when they realize the benefits of the mandated behavior. But they do respond to incentives. So when it comes to convincing people to make changes in their lifestyles — something President Obama has pledged to do — a carrot (preferably organic) might be more effective than a stick.

Tom Jacobs
Staff writer Tom Jacobs is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years experience at daily newspapers. He has served as a staff writer for The Los Angeles Daily News and the Santa Barbara News-Press. His work has also appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Ventura County Star.

More From Tom Jacobs

If you would like to comment on this post, or anything else on Pacific Standard, visit our Facebook or Google+ page, or send us a message on Twitter. You can also follow our regular updates and other stories on both LinkedIn and Tumblr.

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Follow us


Subscribe Now

Quick Studies

Banning Chocolate Milk Was a Bad Choice

The costs of banning America's favorite kids drink from schools may outweigh the benefits, a new study suggests.

In Battle Against Climate Change, Cities Are Left All Alone

Cities must play a critical role in shifting the world to a fossil fuel-free future. So why won't anybody help them?

When a Romance Is Threatened, People Rebound With God

And when they feel God might reject them, they buddy up to their partner.

How Can We Protect Open Ocean That Does Not Yet Exist?

As global warming melts ice and ushers in a wave of commercial activity in the Arctic, scientists are thinking about how to protect environments of the future.

What Kind of Beat Makes You Want to Groove?

The science behind the rhythms that get you on the dance floor.

The Big One

One state—Pennsylvania—logs 52 percent of all sales, shipments, and receipts for the chocolate manufacturing industry. March/April 2014