An environmental disincentive

An article by Tim McDonnell (HT: Andrew Sullivan) discusses a recent study of incentives in purchasing energy efficient light bulbs. The results of the study:

The study then presented participants with a real-world choice: With a fixed amount of money in their wallet, respondents had to “buy” either an old-school lightbulb or an efficient compact florescent bulb (CFL), the same kind Bachmann railed against. Both bulbs were labeled with basic hard data on their energy use, but without a translation of that into climate pros and cons. When the bulbs cost the same, and even when the CFL cost more, conservatives and liberals were equally likely to buy the efficient bulb. But slap a message on the CFL’s packaging that says “Protect the Environment,” and “we saw a significant drop-off in more politically moderates and conservatives choosing that option,” said study author Dena Gromet, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business.

So, the efficiency as a lone incentive gets all involved to buy the efficient bulb. But the introduction of a pro-environment label actually deters more moderate and conservative consumers from purchasing the efficient bulb? Fascinating. The result was unexpected:

Gromet said she never expected the green message to motivate conservatives, but was surprised to find that it could in fact repel them from making a purchase even while they found other aspects, like saving cash on their power bills, attractive. The reason, she thinks, is that given the political polarization of the climate change debate, environmental activism is so frowned upon by those on the right that they’ll do anything to keep themselves distanced from it.

Here’s the experimental result below in graphical form:

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