Climate change is terrifying. We have about a decade, more or less, to fix it before the planet goes totally off the rails. We're trying to integrate sustainability into our day-to-day choices everywhere we can, from ethical booze and composting to (ulp) eating bugs. The power of the purse is undeniable, and there's lots to like about voting with your wallet. We've got to be careful, however, that we don't just stop there.
Researchers at Harvard, Carnegie Mellon and Fordham have just released a study on "green energy nudges" — you know, the little opt-ins you can choose in the course of your daily lives, like using energy-saving lightbulbs or supporting "green" businesses. The team thought that consumers who are already participating in environmentally friendly practices would be more open to larger policy changes, like voting in favor of a carbon tax.
To their dismay, they were wrong. Bottom line: People who respond positively to small green energy nudges could feel that they're already doing enough. In a world where climate change will soon cost us at work and on Wall Street, where fossil fuels could be an investment bubble waiting to pop, and where even the optimists enrolling in green energy offset programs may not be doing enough, we should keep our eye on the big blue ball floating in space.
That said, there is some good news: The study also found that when consumers are told about the small effect of green energy nudges, they were more willing to support large-scale policy solutions like a carbon tax. Consumers also were still willing to opt into the nudges. Every little bit does count — especially when you don't stop with the small stuff.