Promoting environmental virtue isn't like selling Big Macs on TV.Although I agree on his main prescription (use peer pressure and competition to get people to conserve more water), I have two observations:
“The strategies widely used tend to be the least effective,” Schultz said,
Bombarding the masses: Expensive media campaigns trumpeting how serious the drought conditions are – and the oh-so-clever 1,001 tips on how you can be a better citizen – do little except insult the intelligence of consumers who've heard it all before.
If rational arguments outlining how grave the peril is – and how easy it is to conserve – were persuasive, Schultz, a wised-up environmentalist, would be riding a bike to campus. He drives his car.
Increasing the price: Sure, that works for the short term. When gas prices spike, people drive less. But the problem is that the introduction of money turns environmental citizenship into a “transaction,” the logic of which is inexorable: When the price comes down, the incentive to consume will rise.
If price is the cutting issue, people's motivation to conserve, which should be a matter of social conscience, becomes a personal one, Schultz implied. Bottom line, we're still pigs at heart.
Scaring with scarcity: San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders has announced likely water rationing this summer. That may be the only port in a drought but it's bad psychology, Schultz said.
Under the threat of rationing, the incentive is to act like a camel until July.
To create a radically new pattern of behavior, a cultural norm must be fostered in which everyone is acutely aware – in real time – how they're conserving in comparison with similarly situated human beings.
Smart meters are potentially life-changing inventions, he said, but to be effective they must go the extra step of creating lightning-quick comparisons with similar households. They must be social, as well as financial, gauges.
- Such smart meters are pretty expensive -- even for electricity.
- Higher prices will lead to permanent reductions in water consumption when the prices STAY high.
Bottom Line: Water cops, Mr. Drippy announcements, and threats of cataclysm do not work. Use prices and competition -- of any kind.