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Easier said than done

Changing habits may feel like climbing uphill, but it rewards you with new perspectives. Photo by Ales Krivec.

Most people seem to agree that they must do more to help the environment. Yet, in practice, it is very hard to make the leap from willing to doing. Even in a progressive community such as Boulder, CO, where the population can receive subsidies to implement changes, a Time magazine article (Bradd Tuttle, 2010, “Why people aren’t sold on energy efficiency in their homes”) reports that half of them will not implement the recommendations.

One of the reasons for that is resistance for changing. Besides our natural laziness and stubbornness, we seem to need indisputable proof that the changes will work and will be worth the investment. There are also other psychological factors at play, such as, “I don’t see my neighbors doing it, so, why should I be the first?”. But, at least, apart from the money invested, installing a more energy efficient appliance does not demand a personal sacrifice. In contrast, it is much more challenging to implement savings that require a change of habit.

An illustrative example of how difficult it is to change our habits or preferences is given in David Buchan’s book “The Rough Guide to the Energy Crisis” (2010). As he recounts, a survey done in 2007 by the British Market Research Bureau found that most people in a group deemed as “active environmentalists” were willing to use “green” products and worried about pollution. Yet, not so much as to give up traveling. They flew as much as the average UK citizen of same education and affluence.

Of course, we cannot expect a utopia of everyone going fully environmentally friendly. After all, everyone has different priorities. Nonetheless, anyone can still contribute to saving resources by learning good habits, no matter how modest. Legislation and incentives may help, but it seems that education holds the greatest potential for effecting good habits. For instance, as a whole, people in Japan put on sweaters instead of cranking up the heat and rinse dishes in a bowl of water instead of continuously running water.

So, remember that, while thinking about how you can be more environmentally friendly, it is not the thought but the action that counts.