NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


September 25, 2008

People who believe they have the greenest lifestyles can be seen as some of the main culprits behind global warming.  According to researchers, people who regularly recycle trash and save energy at home are also the most likely to take frequent long-haul flights abroad; the carbon emissions from such flights can swamp the green savings made at home.

This research is one of the first attempts to analyze how green intentions alter depending on context.  Researchers questioned 200 people living in England on their environmental attitudes and split them into three groups, based on a commitment to green living.  They found that:

  • The longest and the most frequent flights were taken by those who were most aware of environmental issues, including the threat posed by climate change.
  • Questioned on their heavy use of flying, one respondent said: "I recycle 100 percent of what I can…so that makes me feel less guilty about flying…."
  • "Green" lifestyles at home and frequent flying were linked to income, with wealthier people more likely to be engaged in both activities.
  • The findings indicate that even those people who appear to be very committed to environmental action find it difficult to transfer these behaviors into more problematic contexts.

Researchers conclude that the "notion that we can treat what we do in the home differently form what we do on holiday denies the existence of clearly related and complex lifestyle choices and practices.  Yet even a focus on lifestyle groups who may be most likely to change their views will require both time and political will.  The addiction to cheap flights and holidays will be very difficult to break."

Furthermore, the results reveal the scale of the challenge faced by policymakers who are trying to alter public behavior to help tackle global warming.

Source: David Adam, "Green idealists fail to make grade, says study," The Guardian, September 24, 2008.

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