The environmental movement as a signaling mechanism

David Roberts writes:
The most puzzling behavioral phenomenon to understand when it comes to building efficiency is that Most People Won’t Do Sh*t (MPWDS). “Most people” includes people who could make money by doing sh*t, people who say they will do sh*t, even people who have promised to do sh*t. I’ve heard from people who write about energy efficiency for a living, know exactly what to do to make their homes more efficient, and still don’t do sh*t. It’s hard to disentangle the reasons why—some mix of status quo bias, hyperbolic discounting, and loss aversion to begin with—but it’s clear that public surveys and polls about this tend to be misleading. What people say they’re willing to do and what they demonstrate they’re willing to do are very different things. Attitudes don’t translate into actions.
We care much more about what others think than we do about the environment. Case in point: when homes in California were outfitted with special devices, showing a happy face if energy consumption was lower than the neighbors, or a red sad face if it was higher than the neighbors, overall energy consumption dropped 40%.

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