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Changing human behavior and the high cost of going green

Last week, a PBS Facebook fan by the name of Kat popped a question in our Pitch Room:

“I’d like to investigate why people don’t/won’t change their behavior concerning energy conservation, reducing consumption, recycling, detoxing their homes, etc. Is it some form of denial? Blame the Other? Why do we continue to ruin our environment?”

It’s safe to say that Need to Know fans are largely pro-environment, and we’ve had some quite invigorating discussions on past stories in our environment beat (Robert Fri’s analysis of windmill opposition, our video segment on Wyoming’s battle between the sage-grouse and the wind power industry, Sal Gentile’s interview with climate scientist Michael Mann, and our ever-popular look at the “tiny house” movement, to name a few examples). It’s hard to deny that big corporate interests and lobbyists play a large role in slowing down the country’s shift towards more sustainable living. But lambasting Big Oil and sneering at Hummers can only get us so far. How do we reform the most basic unit of energy consumption: human behavior?

Throughout our coverage of the energy industry and the environment, we’ve received plenty of comments detailing obstacles to adopting a cleaner, greener lifestyle. The price of organic food, for one, is a common complaint, as reader jtlately described:

“Even though I have lots of choices with grocery stores and a local farmers’ market, finding some things – such as strawberries – that are organic is challenging, if not outright impossible! So, am I to not eat them?”

Self-described “poor grad student” Patrick R. agreed:

“As a poor grad student, I can scarcely afford the pesticide-laden imported grapes, much less organic sources for all my produce. I can’t wait until I one day have a real job that allows me to purchase a little plot of land where I can grow much of what I eat, but it just isn’t happening right now.”

Reader Kate Gallagher, however, had a suggestion for driving prices down:

“The sooner people switch to organic foods in a big way the sooner the prices will drop. As we all know the more of anything grown/made/produced/manufactured the cheaper the cost to do so. If we demand organic foods on a large scale the prices will come down.”

One of our most popular segments to date on the “tiny house” movement also elicited a wistful comment from a reader named Tracey who was unable to build her own:

“[Tiny houses] would be a fabulous idea if most jurisdictions didn’t have Zoning Ordinances with minimum square footage requirements.”

Kathy Handyside echoed the opinion:

“People are beginning to rise up and fight these [zoning ordinances]. Why should we be forced into more house than we need, just because of corporate greed on the part of the housing industry (who were the ones who changed the codes)? There are so many people who are homeless who probably would not be homeless if the zoning codes allowed small houses.”

Readers also spoke up about some of the pitfalls involved with adopting wind power — heralded as the new frontier of renewable, sustainable energy production. Jeannie Counce explained how the transmission lines from wind turbines affect property values nearby:

“I live in Montana and [transmission lines are] a really big rub. No one wants to lose value on their property by having massive transmission lines (there still is very little energy infrastructure) run across their land. Keep in mind that a 1,000 acre ranch can be significantly devalued, especially if the owner was planning to one day develop it into a residential neighborhood. The fact that we’ve been consistently ripped off by energy companies selling “our” resources to out-of-state buyers for less than they charge us as consumers is also an issue–it’s not as much about the destination as it is about being gouged.”

In an effort to avoid accusations and finger-pointing at those who refuse to change, allow us to rephrase Kat’s question for you: What are some of the difficulties you’ve faced in trying to adopt a more environmentally friendly lifestyle? If you don’t own a solar panel, compost garbage, bike or take public transportation to work, have a downsized home, buy organic, or use energy-efficient light bulbs – why not? And if you have gone out of your way to go green, what has made it easier for you?