With a new president in office and new environmental policies about to spring out of political limbo and into practice, the old red, white and blue says she is ready for a little more green — at least according to a recent Yale study.
As energy-efficient technologies become more affordable, Americans are willing — and even enthusiastic — to move toward responsible energy use, according to the study, published by researchers from the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and George Mason University this month. The survey showed that many Americans have already started making their homes and lives more eco-friendly, and between 10 and 20 percent plan to do so in the coming year. Still, the No. 1 foe in the battle against global warming remains the high costs of green technology.
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Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change and lead author on the study, summarized the survey findings by comparing both American and international environmental efforts to an orchestra. At the individual, national and global levels, he said Americans must learn to harmonize our music — to synchronize our actions with our words.
“The environmental crisis is a collective action problem,” he said, adding that, while individual action helps, it only chips away at a problem that requires a much more global solution.
The survey results suggest that the primary motivation behind the public’s willingness to go green is the need to save green; 91 percent of the Americans surveyed listed saving money as one of their main reasons for turning off house lights. Additionally, 86 percent of Americans said they take the few extra paces to reach for the switch for more a benign reason: to save energy.
It also seems Americans are now convinced that taking a more environmentally friendly approach to life may in fact raise their standard of living. Of the more than 2,000 adults surveyed, nearly two-thirds believe that changing their lifestyles to reduce global warming will either have a neutral or positive impact on their current quality of life.
Paul Anastas, professor at the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and director of the Center for Green Chemistry and Green Engineering, added that although Americans have long been taught that greener means more expensive and less practical, they need to hear that greener really means more effective, more resourceful and more profitable.
“It takes a while for this message to become common knowledge,” he said. “But the media plays an important role in facilitating this new awareness.”
And according to the survey results, it appears that Americans are getting the message: Energy conservation is no longer viewed as America’s burden.
In fact, 60 percent of the Americans surveyed believe that if people in all modern industrialized nations take steps toward greater energy conservation, the threat of global warming would be significantly reduced.
If Americans believe the problem can be fixed through collective action, what hurdles remain?
Maibach of George Mason, co-author on the study, says it is all a matter of money. The up-front cost of many eco-friendly products is the most significant barrier separating Americans from their energy-saving ambitions, he said.
“[American consumption] will focus more around energy-efficient products if and when our nation can take meaningful steps to reduce or eliminate the extra up-front costs,” Mason said.
The survey results confirmed this view: Cost is the most common reason Americans do not insulate their attics, purchase more fuel-efficient cars, weather-strip their houses, or opt for more energy-efficient water heaters, air conditioners and furnaces.
The survey, conducted in September and October 2008, was funded by the Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy, the Surdna Foundation, the 11th Hour Project and the Pacific Foundation.