Is Health Information More Important Than Dollars In Motivating Energy Conservation?

A new UCLA study seems to suggest so:

According to UCLA researchers, the least effective way to get a Los Angeles family to save electricity is by telling them how much they’ll save in the process — mostly because it’s not a whole lot.

Instead, researchers said it was far more persuasive to tell energy consumers just how many pounds of pollution their power usage generated, and how that pollution has been linked to diseases like cancer and childhood asthma.

If this study is accurate on a broad scale, it means California — and the U.S. — has been going about things all wrong on the energy efficiency effort, and for a long time and with a lot of money. For example, the 2009 stimulus involved millions of dollars for energy efficiency, most of which yielded little result here in California.

But the good news is that in the end, it all boils down to the same thing: providing energy users with data on the impacts of their usage patterns. Whereas up until now we’ve thought they should know the economic costs, such as by providing them with information on lifetime energy costs for appliances, maybe we just need to switch that information over to public health costs, as this study suggests. And the study also indicates how powerful public health data can be in the fight to get public support to reduce pollution more generally.

Overall, a very eye-opening bit of research. I hope there is significant follow-on to test the results in different communities and at a broader scale.


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