Thu, Sep 25, 2008 - Page 6 News List

Study shows that ‘greenies’ are fooling themselves

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

People who believe they have the greenest lifestyles can be seen as some of the main culprits behind global warming, says a team of researchers who claim that many ideas about sustainable living are a myth.

The researchers said people who regularly recycle rubbish and save energy at home are also the most likely to take frequent long-haul flights abroad. The carbon emissions from such flights can swamp the green savings made at home, the researchers claim.

Stewart Barr, of Exeter University, England, who led the research, said: “green living is largely something of a myth. There is this middle class environmentalism where being green is part of the desired image. But another part of the desired image is to fly off skiing twice a year. And the carbon savings they make by not driving their kids to school will be obliterated by the pollution from their flights.”

Some people even said they deserved such flights as a reward for their green efforts, he added.

Only a very small number of citizens matched their eco-friendly behavior at home by refusing to fly abroad, Barr told a climate change conference at Exeter University on Tuesday.

The research team questioned 200 people on their environmental attitudes and split them into three groups, based on a commitment to green living.

They found the longest and the most frequent flights were taken by those who were most aware of environmental issues, including the threat posed by climate change.

Questioned on their heavy use of flying, one respondent said: “I recycle 100 percent of what I can, there’s not one piece of paper goes in my bin, so that makes me feel less guilty about flying as much as I do.”

Barr said “green” lifestyles at home and frequent flying were linked to income, with wealthier people more likely to be engaged in both activities.

He said: “The findings indicate that even those people who appear to be very committed to environmental action find it difficult to transfer these behaviors into more problematic contexts.”

The team says the research is one of the first attempts to analyze how green intentions alter depending on context. It says the results reveal the scale of the challenge faced by policymakers who are trying to alter public behavior to help tackle global warming.

The study concludes: “The notion that we can treat what we do in the home differently from what we do on holiday denies the existence of clearly related and complex lifestyle choices and practices. Yet even a focus on lifestyle groups who may be most likely to change their views will require both time and political will. The addiction to cheap flights and holidays will be very difficult to break.”

The frequent flyers said they expected new technology to make aviation greener, echoing comments made by Tony Blair last year, who said it was “impractical” to expect people to take holidays closer to home. He said the solution was “to look at how you make air travel more energy-efficient, how you develop the new fuels that will allow us to burn less energy and emit less.”

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