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Yale Environment 360

Promises, Promises

Jon Luoma posts an analysis on Yale Environment 360 — Why Does Energy Efficiency's Promise Remain Unfulfilled? Nancy weighs in with a stick. Do you think a carrot can work without a stick?

Among the many measures the world can take to wean itself off fossil fuels, few match the benefits of making homes, business, and cars more energy-efficient. But financial and psychological barriers have kept individuals, businesses, and governments from realizing efficiency's great potential.

Writing in the journal Science in March 2010, economists Hunt Allcott of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Sendhil Mullainathan of Harvard University summarized behavioral research about how and why people often don't seem to respond to clear price signals, even when they have plenty of information about costs and benefits. They suggested that these sorts of anomalies have implications for energy policy, including whether carbon taxes or carbon trading programs will have has much effect on behavior as advocates hope. It turns out that much of the problem is simple procrastination — of busy people intending to take action, but putting off until endless tomorrows what isn't an urgent need that day, or the next, or next. Another is a persistent "endowment effect," an apparently deeply embedded human urge to simply stick with the current status quo.

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Nancy's Comment:

Jon, a terrific article. You covered many bases, and in another context, I might be inclined to think, we'll get more energy efficient some fine day.

But since we hear a ticking clock while more GHGs enter the atmosphere to stay there for a century as they warm the planet, some fine day is not enough.

Absent laws that are effective in changing the bottom line about the mandatory performance of every building and business and what everyone must find a way to pay for, it is hard to see when energy efficiency will become the widespread new normal. Maybe it will be too late.