Little Action After Lots of Green Talk

  • 72% of us say it's important to use public transportation or carpool, but only 12% of us do it. (Photo by Mike Hicks)

What are you doing to help the environment? Have you ditched the plastic water bottles and carry a reusable one instead. Maybe you bike to work a couple days a week. According to a recent study, there’s sometimes a big gap between what we say we should do and what we actually do. Reporter Tanya Ott knows all about it.

Check out the survey results

A related Environment Report story


So I’ve got a morning routine in my house. The first thing I do is I brush my teeth.
I always turn off the water while brushing my teeth. I take a quick shower, get dressed and head downstairs. I might take out the recycling. Unless, the outside bin is full and we’re still a couple days away from pickup. In which case, I sometimes throw recyclables away. I grab my Diet Coke, in the plastic bottle, and get into my car, by myself, to drive to work.

I feel guilty about a lot of this stuff. And it turns out I’m not alone.

Out on the Diag at the University of Michigan, Michelle Kim says it’s important to save water and electricity and to recycle. She says it’s easy in Korea, where she’s from, because almost everything is recyclable, but it’s not so easy here in the states.

“In America you just need a little more effort, you know, to do it because you have to find your own place to recycle and I don’t think our apartment does it as much.”

Anthony Leiserowitz is the director of Yale University’s Project on Climate Change.

“Americans have very good intentions, but aren’t necessarily always following through on those good intentions.”

Along with colleagues from George Mason University, he surveys people on what they say is important to protect the environment and what they actually do.

72% of respondents say using public transportation or carpooling is important, but only 12% actually do it.

“Many people say, look, I would love to do this, but my community hasn’t provided me with public transportation options that affordable or clean or safe of even easily used. In other words the routes don’t go near where I live.”

Leiserowitz says that’s a societal constraint. Communities have invested much more money in roads and building up a car-based culture, but, he says, other conservation choices are more personal.

(Teddy Pendergrass song – “Turn off the lights”)

Teddy Pendergrass told us to do it, and so did our mamas. Still, 9% of survey respondents who say they should turn off the lights, don’t. Anthony Leiserowitz says they’re lazy, but technology like motion detector lights can help.

“Which makes it easy, the light comes on when somebody comes into a room and if there’s no motion in a room for ten minutes, the light automatically goes out. Problem solved!”

What about unplugging electronics? Even when a machine is off it still draws electricity, but more than half of people who say it’s important to unplug electronics don’t do it.

It’s not surprising that we tend to do the things that are easier. Any behavior change takes time. At first it’s hard to remember, but once you make it a habit it becomes second nature.

Anthony Leiserowitz says don’t overlook the bigger changes that will save you more energy and money. He says swapping traditional light bulbs for compact fluorescents is a great conservation move. So is upgrading the insulation in your attic. It’s not sexy, but it is smart.

Tanya Ott, The Environment Report