Saturday, May 04, 2013

Study: Conservatives actively prefer wasteful tribalism

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Compact florescent light bulb

I neglected to blog about this when I first heard about it earlier this week, but an interesting and revealing (if not entirely surprising) new study seems to confirm that not only do more hardline conservatives care little about preserving the environment, they’ll actively go for the more wasteful and inefficient route in order to spite ’em some tree-huggerin’ librulz, even if it means paying more out of their own pocket for it:

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.


Gromet said she never expected the green message to motivate conservatives, but was surprised to find that it could in fact repel them from making a purchase even while they found other aspects, like saving cash on their power bills, attractive. The reason, she thinks, is that given the political polarization of the climate change debate, environmental activism is so frowned upon by those the right that they'll do anything to keep themselves distanced from it.

"When we're given an option where the choice is made to represent a value that we don't identify with or that our ideological group doesn't value," she said, "this can turn the purchase into something undesirable. By making [the environment] part of the choice, even though they might see the economic benefit, they no longer want to put their money toward that option."

It may seem unreal to some that a group of people (however broadly defined) would deliberately impact their bottom line (not to mention the natural world) just to sneer at imaginary ideological opponents, but the far-Right’s contempt for energy efficiency is well documented and even backed by research:

In a study published last month on the National Bureau of Economic Research website, Dora Costa and Matthew Kahn concluded that providing feedback on energy use can actually backfire with some conservatives.

Costa and Kahn merged utility data from 80,000 homes with corresponding voter registration and donation records. The economists found that a Democratic household with green bona fides -- paying for electricity from renewable sources, donating to environmental groups and living in a neighborhood of fellow liberals -- will reduce its consumption by 3 percent in response to feedback.

Meanwhile, a Republican household that doesn't adhere to environmental behaviors will actually increase its consumption by 1 percent. The households that received home energy reports reduced their consumption by about 2 percent overall, but the Republican subset of this group reduced their energy use by 0.4 percent.

And as Ed Brayton notes, the environment is one area where conservatives, particularly the far-Right media, are anything but conservative in their thinking:

In 2011, the conservative blog Red State actually urged people to celebrate “earth hour,” when people all over the world were encouraged to turn their lights off, by turning more lights on. In 2009, Rush Limbaugh said he planned to make sure all his cars are driven more on Earth Day and that his plane takes a long trip for no reason too. And Glenn Beck said he wanted to hear from people who planned to cut down trees on Earth Day. The next year Beck announced that he would celebrate Earth Day by burning styrofoam in his back yard. The one thing conservatism clearly does not represent today is any desire to engage in conservation.

Ultimately, as Andrew Sullivan summarizes, the sad but obvious reality is that the Right has become all about posturing and gimmickry over actual pragmatic policies, even at their own expense if it means spending more of their money for the fleeting chance of annoying some faceless liberal.

Isn’t it sad what mindless ideology and runaway spite can do to people?