Misperceived Paths to Energy Savings

I’d appreciate your thoughts on a new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on people’s perceptions of actions that save a lot of energy, compared to steps that actually save a lot of energy. “Public perceptions of energy consumption and savings” is posted online. Here’s the abstract:

In a national online survey, 505 participants reported their perceptions of energy consumption and savings for a variety of household, transportation, and recycling activities. When asked for the most effective strategy they could implement to conserve energy, most participants mentioned curtailment (e.g., turning off lights, driving less) rather than efficiency improvements (e.g., installing more efficient light bulbs and appliances), in contrast to experts’ recommendations. For a sample of 15 activities, participants underestimated energy use and savings by a factor of 2.8 on average, with small overestimates for low-energy activities and large underestimates for high-energy activities.

Additional estimation and ranking tasks also yielded relatively flat functions for perceived energy use and savings. Across several tasks, participants with higher numeracy scores and stronger proenvironmental attitudes had more accurate perceptions. The serious deficiencies highlighted by these results suggest that well-designed efforts to improve the public’s understanding of energy use and savings could pay large dividends.

The take-home conclusion is that if the United States is to harvest what some analysts have called a “ behavioral wedge” of hundreds of millions of avoidable tons of greenhouse gas emissions (and wasted energy), a vital prerequisite is  boosting energy literacy.

Misperceived Paths to Energy Savings

I’d appreciate your thoughts on a new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on people’s perceptions of actions that save a lot of energy, compared to steps that actually save a lot of energy. “Public perceptions of energy consumption and savings” is posted online. Here’s the abstract:

In a national online survey, 505 participants reported their perceptions of energy consumption and savings for a variety of household, transportation, and recycling activities. When asked for the most effective strategy they could implement to conserve energy, most participants mentioned curtailment (e.g., turning off lights, driving less) rather than efficiency improvements (e.g., installing more efficient light bulbs and appliances), in contrast to experts’ recommendations. For a sample of 15 activities, participants underestimated energy use and savings by a factor of 2.8 on average, with small overestimates for low-energy activities and large underestimates for high-energy activities.

Additional estimation and ranking tasks also yielded relatively flat functions for perceived energy use and savings. Across several tasks, participants with higher numeracy scores and stronger proenvironmental attitudes had more accurate perceptions. The serious deficiencies highlighted by these results suggest that well-designed efforts to improve the public’s understanding of energy use and savings could pay large dividends.

The take-home conclusion is that if the United States is to harvest what some analysts have called a “ behavioral wedge” of hundreds of millions of avoidable tons of greenhouse gas emissions (and wasted energy), a vital prerequisite is  boosting energy literacy.

By ANDREW C. REVKIN/NYTimes

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