Conservatives prefer wasting energy over protecting the environment, study finds

CFL Bulb Photo

"Why do conservatives like to waste energy?" asks Tim McDonnell about a disturbing study on attitudes towards energy conservation:

A study out today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences examined attitudes about energy efficiency in liberals and conservatives, and found that promoting energy-efficient products and services on the basis of their environmental benefits actually turned conservatives off from picking them. The researchers first quizzed participants on how much they value various benefits of energy efficiency, including reducing carbon emissions, reducing foreign oil dependence, and reducing how much consumers pay for energy; cutting emissions appealed to conservatives the least.

The study then presented participants with a real-world choice: With a fixed amount of money in their wallet, respondents had to "buy" either an old-school light bulb or an efficient compact florescent bulb (CFL), the same kind Bachmann railed against. Both bulbs were labeled with basic hard data on their energy use, but without a translation of that into climate pros and cons. When the bulbs cost the same, and even when the CFL cost more, conservatives and liberals were equally likely to buy the efficient bulb. But slap a message on the CFL's packaging that says "Protect the Environment," and "we saw a significant drop-off in more politically moderates and conservatives choosing that option," said study author Dena Gromet, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business.

The author of the study says that political polarization of climate change is the reason conservatives choose to avoid products marketed as green, even though they may also save money in the long run. That may be the case, but I suspect it also has something to do with the right-wing framing of global warming as a hoax concocted by people like Al Gore to make money. They may see any product touting its greenness as putting money into the pockets of their political opposition or as a deception to be avoided.

I was also reminded of examples of people intentionally wasting energy out of spite due to their dislike for environmentalists or liberals. For example, the libertarian/conservative think tank, CEI opposed Earth Hour by encouraging people to keep the lights on. It's also not at all uncommon to see Facebook posts or tweets like these of people touting their poor MPG on their vehicle or plans to litter, because they dislike "tree huggers."

Why do you think conservatives are avoiding products marketed as green? And what should be done about it to make the issue less divisive?

UPDATE: At the Dot Earth blog, Andrew Revkin points to a 2009 study that found a similar pattern.

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