A new survey of Americans in 34 states has revealed that many still do not know how to conserve energy.
The largest group, nearly 20 percent, cited turning off lights as the best approach-an action that affects energy budgets relatively little. Very few cited buying decisions that experts say would cut U.S. energy consumption dramatically, such as more efficient cars (cited by only 2.8 percent), more efficient appliances (cited by 3.2 percent) or weatherizing homes (cited by 2.1 percent).
Lead author Shahzeen Attari, a postdoctoral fellow at Columbia University's Earth Institute and the university's Center for Research on Environmental Decisions, said multiple factors probably are driving the misperceptions.
"When people think of themselves, they may tend to think of what they can do that is cheap and easy at the moment," she said.
Many side factors may complicate people's perceptions. For instance, those who identified themselves in the survey as pro-environment tended to have more accurate perceptions.
But people who engaged in more energy-conserving behaviours were actually less accurate-possibly a reflection of unrealistic optimism about the actions they personally were choosing to take.
The study appears in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.