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Environmental Issues: Making It Easier To Be Green

by Elaine Schwartz    •    Aug 14, 2013    •    297 Views

  • “Paul owns shares in company A. During the past year he considered switching to stock in company B, but he decided against it. He now learns that he would have been better off by $1,200 if he had switched to the stock of company B.”
  • “George owned shares in company B. During the past year he switched to stock in company A. He now learns he would have been better off by $1,200 if he had kept his stock in company B.”

Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast and Slow, p. 348

Asked who should feel worse, more than 90% of all respondents said George. The reason is that outcomes produced by action generate more of our emotion than those we create through inaction. Sometimes inaction is easier.

We could call it the power of the default.

Harvard law professor Cass Sunstein suggests that we use the power of the default to evoke more responsible environmental behavior. When Rutgers University made 2-sided printing the default, during only 4 years, they saved 55 million fewer sheets of paper. In Germany, when a clean energy program became the default for a community, clean energy usage soared.

Not quite as enthusiastically, in his NY Times column, David Brooks notes other “nudges” the government could use to shape our behavior. With air conditioners, Congress could encourage energy efficiency by mandating a red light that signaled the filter needed changing. Ultimately though, he wonders whether we want a “softly” paternalistic government that would slide toward, “government elites manipulating us into doing the sorts of things they want us to do.”

Sources and resources: With soft paternalism, David Brooks introduces a new spin on “nudges” while Cass Sunstein in Nudge, in his Bloomberg article, and in Simpler: The Future of Government provides the facts on which to base your opinion of Brooks’s perspective.

Amy will return next week with her Green Blog.

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