26 August 2010

Watts Up? ~ We Misallocate Conservation Acts

The latest Economist asks-answers Watts up? People habitually underestimate their energy consumption...
"Environmental asceticism has created a vogue for upgrading light-bulbs and tweaking thermostats. But according to a new piece of research, many of these actions -- however virtuous -- arise from faulty perceptions of energy savings. [...] When asked to rank the single most effective way to save energy, participants typically endorsed activities with small savings, such as turning off lights, while ignoring what they could economise on larger devices. This suggests that people misallocate their efforts, fretting over an unattended lamp (at 100 watts) while neglecting the energy they could save by nudging their washer settings from “hot” to “warm” (4,000 watt-hours for each load of laundry). A quirk of human psychology could help to explain these persistent underestimates. When calculating such things, people often adopt a familiar unit as a mental yardstick and then generate predictions based on that unit. As a side-effect, their estimates cluster too closely around the yardstick measure -- a phenomenon called 'anchoring'."
This regretably reminds me of the largely ineffectual Greening MIT initiative, with its overemphasis on irrelevancies, for instance, encouraging us to use rotating doors which are stupidly locked over half the day.

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