Guilt is an ineffective tool

This is a touch depressing, or would be if it were strictly true. Reports the CBC:

Canadians have gotten a little bit greener over the past 12 years, especially where governments passed laws to force behaviour changes, a newly released survey suggests.

But in other areas, consumers are acting just as they did in 1994, says a Statistics Canada report released Wednesday.

In two areas where there were big changes — garden pesticide use in Quebec and composting in the Atlantic region — governments compelled greener behaviour.

Nationally, chemical pesticide use fell an insignificant two percentage points between the two surveys. But in Quebec, “where strict regulations on pesticide use were imposed in recent years, the proportion [using pesticides] plunged from 30 per cent to 15 per cent,” the survey said.

As for composting, while there was a slight national increase, the gain was “especially large” in the Atlantic provinces, “some of which prohibit the disposal of organic materials in landfills or incinerators.”

What the CBC appears to miss is that consumers also responded strongly to price signals where they’ve been visible, mainly in household energy use. From Statistics Canada’s survey:

Households are taking advantage of new power-saving devices, the survey showed. Between 1994 and 2006, the proportion using at least one compact fluorescent light bulb more than tripled from 19% to 59%.

Households in all provinces contributed to this rise. In 2006, British Columbia and Ontario had the highest percentage of households using compact fluorescent light bulbs, nearly two-thirds in each province. In contrast, only one-half of all households in Quebec used them.

Programmable thermostats, which automatically adjust the temperature setting, have become increasingly popular. In 1994, 16% of households with a thermostat had one that was programmable. By 2006, this proportion had more than doubled to 42%. On the other hand, among households that had such a device, about 16% had not programmed it.

In Ontario, 52% of households had a programmable thermostat, more than double the proportion of 24% in 1994. Households in the Atlantic Provinces were the least likely to have one.

Quebec has very cheap power as a matter of government policy and provincial pride; Ontario’s gone to something more closely resembling market prices, albeit with very deep government involvement still in the electricity sector. Quebecers also disproportionately use their inexpensive electricity for heat while Ontarians use oil and natural gas, whose prices have been even less cushioned as a matter of public policy.

Astoundingly, the agency also found three in 10 Canadian households mainly use bottled water (you have to dig into the survey questions [PDF] to find that tidbit) for drinking.

What’s very clear from these results is that guilting and pleading with people don’t work.


One response to “Guilt is an ineffective tool

  1. There’s always going to be 20-30 % of the population that is simply too contrary or lazy to change their behaviour, the ‘browns’ if you will. The only way to deal with them is very gradual shoving via government regulation of building practises, appliance and vehicle efficiency, etc.

    One thing I would like to see is an end to administration and transmission fees for electricity. About 80 % of my electric bill from EPCOR is fixed fees with actual consumption forming the remainder. Where’s the incentive to conserve?

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