Half of Americans Already Making Energy Efficiency Improvements, Few Get Out of Their Cars: New Survey Finds

tempe light rail photo

Light rail train in Tempe, Arizona. Photo: Rail Life via flickr

Most regular TreeHugger readers probably try to do as much as they can to live greener lifestyles (even if we all probably could do more...) but what do people in general do? If you're interested in what people in the United States are doing in terms of saving energy in their homes and in their transportation choices then a new survey done by Yale University and George Mason University has the answers. It covers a lot of ground in terms of the actions people are taking, would like to take, and why or why not they are doing them. Here's a brief summary of the findings:Americans Think Saving Energy Will Improve Their Lives
The survey found that about half of Americans have already made energy efficiency improvements to the homes and many others plan on doing so. Among those who aren't making these sort of improvements, many can't afford to, or in the case of home improvements either don't know how or perceive themselves as too busy. Very few people say that they are unwilling to make energy efficiency improvements. In terms of conserving energy: More than 90% of people say they regularly turn off unnecessary lights, but only 20% regularly take public transport, car pool, walk or bicycle.

The main motivation cited for taking these sort of actions is saving money and energy. However, significant numbers of people say that reducing global warming, acting morally and feeling good about themselves inform there actions. By more than a 2 to 1 margin, Americans think that reducing energy use will improve the quality of their lives.

As you might imagine, there are a lot of charts to break down in the report, but I'll break out one to give you a taste of the type of questions asked and the responses received. Here's what people are doing to save energy in transportation:

Buy a More Fuel Efficient Car
When asked in they would buy a 30mpg car (the average fuel economy of the entire US car fleet, old and new vehicles is a bit over 22mpg...) 21% said they had already done so; 20% would like to and probably will; 41% would like to but probably won't; and 15% said they have no intention of doing so.

So why might people not purchase a more fuel efficient vehicle? Keep in mind that people could check more than one answer, so these percentages will tally to more than 100%: 47% of people said they could not afford to buy a car that gets 30mpg, 45% said they didn't need a new car, 18% said they were too small, 8% said that they were not safe or not powerful enough. Interestingly 1% said that "someone else in my home would object".

Take Public Transit or Car Pool
In terms of people's use of public transit and car pooling the results were as follows: 54% of people either never or rarely take public transit or car pool; 15% responded that they sometimes do; and 18% said that they often or always do so.

So why do over half of American's shun their neighbors while traveling? Access seems to be the main issue. Again, people could choose more than one reason here: 37% said that they don't have the option to take it, 33% said no public transit or car pooling existed in their area, 31% said what did exist was too inconvenient. Of the other responses given (none of which garnered more than 18%) some people simply like to commute by themselves, some thought it too physically uncomfortable, though it would take too much effort or wouldn't feel safe doing so. Only 3% said that the issue wasn't important.

Walking or Bicycling?
Quickly, it terms of people's walking and biking habits 51% of people replied that they never or rarely walk or bike to get around. As to why this is, 55% of people said that the distances that they travel are too far. All other responses (the weather would make it uncomfortable, it'd take too much time or too much effort, or they physically can't) received 21% support or less.

So, To Recap...
In my admittedly over simplified analysis this is where we're at in the United States: We've constructed our society so that half of people live too far away from where they do their shopping, work and socializing that they can't walk or bike there. We haven't supplied over one-third of these places with adequate public transit to get them where they need to go over these distances. And nearly half of them can't afford to buy a car that would get a measly 30mpg to use less fuel in traveling over these same distances.

Here's the whole report: Saving Energy At Home and On The Road
Public Transportation, Energy Efficiency, Bicycling
Project Transit: Restoring the Romance of Public Transportation
Cycling Save Australia $200 Million in Health Costs
Quote of the Day: Building Green Houses is Like 'Polishing a Turd'

Related Content on Treehugger.com