Menus Subscribe Search

Oregonians Embrace Ethos of Reducing Consumption

• June 24, 2011 • 4:00 AM

Nonprofit finds that 88 percent of Oregonians surveyed agree that reducing consumption is a good thing.

Pollsters are seldom shocked by the responses they receive, but Tom Bowerman and Ezra Markowitz of the Eugene, Ore.-based nonprofit PolicyInteractive were genuinely amazed by the results of their 2008 statewide survey. They asked Oregonians to opine on the wisdom of reducing their level of energy consumption. To their amazement, they found 88 percent agreed with the sentiment. Over a series of follow-up polls, they attempted to shake that number, but they never got less than 74 percent agreement. Bowman recently discussed their “exploratory research project” and its implications for the climate change debate. Here are some of the answers offered in our interview:

What do people really want? “What we found is a longing for a cultural model which is substantially different than the one we set down 75 to 100 years ago. This transcends all ideological divides. Everybody’s on board with it. There’s unease when we survey the direction of the country; people say things like, ‘We’ve painted ourselves into a corner, and we don’t know how to get out of it.’

“Looking across all the polling results we have collected over the past two years, it appears that lowering consumption levels through downshifting, working less and spending more time with family may in fact be complementary narratives in the Oregonian, and perhaps the American, mindset. This shift in priorities could potentially yield lower consumption demands and thus greenhouse gas emissions.”

Is this less-is-more mindset reflected in people’s behavior? “We readily acknowledge that there is quite a distance between attitude and behavior. But attitude does count for something. It’s the precursor to behavior in many cases. It’s ground zero for long-term behavior shifts.

July-August 2011 “We have shown that the public is favorably disposed to consume less and, in fact, there is some evidence that Americans began reducing their own consumption prior to the current recession. We believe such widely shared beliefs represent a possible opening toward conciliation between groups within the American public that are at odds with pressing environmental and social issues.”

Why aren’t policymakers embracing this impulse? “Revenue flows to public coffers comes from property taxes, income taxes and, in some states, sales taxes. The policymaker is struggling with how to create more business and more growth (to get the tax revenue they need). They want to grow our way out of climate change with a ‘green economy’ rather than thinking about our consumption patterns. But other countries consume considerably less than we do in the U.S., and they have higher self-reported levels of well-being and produce substantially less greenhouse gas emissions.”

Does this mean people are open to a consumption tax? “No. What I tell policymakers is if they want to work on an inverted utility rate structure or improve fuel-efficiency standards, it certainly appears you have support. But the idea of a broad-based consumption tax does not appear to be a salable product to me. People’s confidence in the ability of policy constructs to solve our problems is very low.”

Sign up for the free Miller-McCune.com e-newsletter.

“Like” Miller-McCune on Facebook.

Follow Miller-McCune on Twitter.

Add Miller-McCune.com news to your site.

Subscribe to Miller-McCune

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

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

Recent Posts


July 24 • 9:48 AM

The People Who Are Scared of Dogs

While more people fear snakes or spiders, with dogs everywhere, cynophobia makes everyday public life a constant challenge.


July 24 • 8:00 AM

Newton’s Needle: On Scientific Self-Experimentation

It is all too easy to treat science as a platform that allows the observer to hover over the messiness of life, unobserved and untouched. But by remembering the role of the body in science, perhaps we humanize it as well.


July 24 • 6:00 AM

Commercializing the Counterculture: How the Summer Music Festival Went Mainstream

With painted Volkswagen buses, talk of “free love,” and other reminders of the Woodstock era replaced by advertising and corporate sponsorships, hippie culture may be dying, but a new subculture—a sort of purgatory between hipster and hippie—is on the rise.


July 24 • 5:00 AM

In Praise of Our Short Attention Spans

Maybe there’s a good reason why it seems like there’s been a decline in our our ability to concentrate for a prolonged period of time.


July 24 • 4:00 AM

How Stereotypes Take Shape

New research from Scotland finds they’re an unfortunate product of the way we process and share information.


July 23 • 4:00 PM

Who Doesn’t Like Atheists?

The Pew Research Center asked Americans of varying religious affiliations how they felt about each other.


July 23 • 2:00 PM

We Need to Start Tracking Patient Harm and Medical Mistakes Now

Top patient-safety experts call on Congress to step in and, among other steps, give the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wider responsibility for measuring medical mistakes.


July 23 • 12:19 PM

How a CEO’s Fiery Battle Speeches Can Shape Ethical Behavior

CEO war speech might inspire ethical decisions internally and unethical ones among competing companies.


July 23 • 12:00 PM

Why Do We Love the ‘Kim Kardashian: Hollywood’ Game?

It’s easy enough to turn yourself into a virtual celebrity, complete with fame and mansions—but it will likely cost you.


July 23 • 11:49 AM

Modern Technology Still Doesn’t Protect Americans From Deadly Landslides

No landslide monitoring or warning systems are being used to protect vulnerable communities.


July 23 • 10:00 AM

Outing the Death-Drug Distributors

Calling all hackers: It’s time to go Assange on capital punishment.


July 23 • 8:00 AM

The Surprising Appeal of Products That Require Effort to Use

New research finds they enable consumers to re-establish a feeling that they’re in control of their lives.



July 23 • 6:00 AM

How the Other Half Lifts: What Your Workout Says About Your Social Class

Why can’t triathletes and weightlifters get along?


July 23 • 5:02 AM

Battle of the Public Intellectuals: Edward Glaeser vs. Richard Florida

On gentrification and housing costs.


July 23 • 4:00 AM

Our Fear of Immigrants

Why did a group of fourth graders rally in support of an undocumented classmate while the citizens of Murrieta, California, tried to stop immigrant children from entering their town?


July 22 • 4:00 PM

Can Meditation Really Slow Aging?

Is there real science in the spiritualism of meditation? Jo Marchant meets a Nobel Prize-winner who thinks so.



July 22 • 2:00 PM

The Alabama Judge Who Refuses to Let Desegregation Orders Go Ignored

A federal judge in Alabama says a local school board has failed to meet legal mandate to integrate.


July 22 • 12:00 PM

On the Destinations of Species

It’s almost always easier to cross international borders if you’re something other than human.


July 22 • 10:51 AM

The Link Between Carbs, Gut Microbes, and Colon Cancer

Reduced carb intake among mice protected them from colon cancer.


July 22 • 10:47 AM

Irrational Choice Theory: The LeBron James Migration From Miami to Cleveland

Return migrants to Cleveland have been coming home in large numbers for quite some time. It makes perfect sense.


July 22 • 9:32 AM

This Time, Scalia Was Right

President Obama’s recess appointments were wrong and, worse, dangerous.


July 22 • 8:00 AM

On Vegas Strip, Blackjack Rule Change Is Sleight of Hand

Casino operators are changing blackjack payouts to give the house an even greater advantage. Is this a sign that Vegas is on its way back from the recession, or that the Strip’s biggest players are trying to squeeze some more cash out of visitors before the well runs dry?


Follow us


Subscribe Now

How a CEO’s Fiery Battle Speeches Can Shape Ethical Behavior

CEO war speech might inspire ethical decisions internally and unethical ones among competing companies.

Modern Technology Still Doesn’t Protect Americans From Deadly Landslides

No landslide monitoring or warning systems are being used to protect vulnerable communities.

The Link Between Carbs, Gut Microbes, and Colon Cancer

Reduced carb intake among mice protected them from colon cancer.

The New Weapon Against Disease-Spreading Insects Is Big Data

Computer models that pinpoint the likely locations of mosquitoes and tsetse flies are helping officials target vector control efforts.

People Are Clueless About Placebos

Doctors know that sometimes the best medicine is no medicine at all. But how do patients feel about getting duped into recovery?

The Big One

Today, the United States produces less than two percent of the clothing purchased by Americans. In 1990, it produced nearly 50 percent. July/August 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.