Keeping an eye on your own energy use is the “duh” approach to a smorgasbord of environmental problems, up to and including climate change. As a reporter, I can obsess over research funding for renewable technology, or streamlined permitting for solar installations, or more public transit, or better roads for cyclists and pedestrians, or how much fuel is burned in schlepping and refrigerating my food before it gets to me. But if I actually want to feel like I have control over one small corner of the world, I turn off the lights when I leave the room. When the downstairs neighbors in my apartment building turn all the lights on in the basement, because they are little weenies who are afraid of the dark, I go downstairs, turn them off myself, and generally think uncharitable thoughts about them and their various lifestyle choices.
In all this light-switch obsessing, I am a textbook illustration of a phenomenon explored recently by the Journal of Environmental Psychology. Chris Mooney over at the Washington Post does a good job of summarizing the study:
People generally weren’t very good at estimating how much total energy use the different categories consumed. For one, they didn’t realize that the biggest energy users — home heating and driving “private motor vehicles” — were dramatically more energy intensive than many other smaller energy users, such as computers or dishwashers.
You know what this means: I have been judging my neighbors for all the wrong reasons. This is pure tragedy.
Read more here.