Survey Indicates Americans Deluded On Energy Conservation. Are They Really?


Can you find the energy Waldo in this picture? Image credit:USGS, oil shale extraction process.

Quoting here from reports of a consumer energy use survey by the Tennessee-based Shelton Group: "...53 percent of Americans think they're using less energy than they were five years ago..." UPI covered the survey story, stating, "In reality, though, U.S. electricity consumption has steadily risen, increasing 10 percent in the last 10 years, according to the Department of Energy." So where is that increase coming from?UPI quotes a spokesperson who offers a snack food analogy to help explain the contradiction (see Jevon's Paradox links below), and then goes on to complain that the Obama Administration has failed to allocate consumer education funds in the 2009 stimulus package. (Even though the comparison is with energy consumption in the period 1998 through 2008.)

Analysis.
I expect that many of the 53% of surveyed US energy consumers who reported conservation steps were taken in the last 5 years know that society expects them to be energy spendthrifts, and therefore responded to that expectation. Question too general and subject to expectational bias, in other words.

As for the finding that a third of surveyed consumers were disappointed with the results of energy conservation measures taken over last five years,...

Behaviors like this may be why a third of survey respondents with energy-efficient products said they had not seen the return on investment they'd hoped for.
...such responses are meaningless unless we know that that the third of consumers who were disappointed knew the extent to which their utility rates had risen in recent years, and had responded to the question having first normalized the for that effect. Not likely.

TreeHugger may bear some responsibility for posting so many times in praise of CFLs, contributing to the expectation that bulb-swapping does the personal redemption trick. It won't. People also have to get that caulking gun going. That said, the survey raises important questions that deserve more research.

Jevon's Paradox
Long ago, just such an investment/savings paradox was theorized, and validated as a real aspect of the human economy. Rocky Mountain Institute has guest posted twice on TreeHugger regarding Jevon's Paradox, which is what the phenomena is generally called. See below for illustrations of Jevon's fits with today's energy challenge:

More posts on Jevon's Paradox, wherein conservation-minded purchases may lead to increased energy consumption.
Beating the Energy Efficiency Paradox (Part I)
Beating the Energy Efficiency Paradox (Part II)
Graphics Of The Day: A Carbon Intensifying, 23-Year Vision Of US ...
2004 Prius Worth Twice as Much as Same Year Ford F150

Tags: Economics