The cranky psychology of domestic emissions

Household energy use is the biggest single category of emissions and significant reductions here require neither new technology nor new laws. Just common sense. This, unsurprisingly, seems to have been overlooked by policymakers.

The fear of catching cold is embedded deep in the psychology of the east Europeans. This fear is at the core of the behavioural trait of overheating buildings. In Bulgaria there is a little phrase, which rhymes in the original: “Bulgarians are afraid of two things – catching a cold, and getting cheated.” In Hungary the verb megfázik, to catch a cold, is a linguistic icon.

Our electrician was complaining about his gas bill of 23,000 Forints [Euro 76] per month (about 17,000 Forints more than ours). He explained that they have to keep the flat at 25 degrees centigrade because of the baby. In Hungary babies are kept in sauna-like conditions. The maternal line insists on this, not the babies themselves. “Nehogy megfázzon a gyerek.”

Relatives of a Bulgarian friend have their flat heated to more than 25 degrees, using the air-conditioner in reverse to boost the temperature, and walk around the flat in t-shirt and shorts. Because they like it that way.

These phenomena result from the interplay of several psychological influences. We need to understand these and use upbringing, nurture, education and advocacy to change them.

Incidentally, very simple practical solutions exist to address overheating. The owner of an energy services company told me that the principal measure he uses to tackle overheating in hospitals and public buildings is weekly to reduce the temperature by half a degree. For several weeks no-one notices. Then once a few people start to complain of the cold you turn up the temperature by half a degree and leave it there. Costs are cut by 30 percent or more.

Since most of our emissions come from household heating and electricity consumption, it would make sense to put lots of effort into discovering ways of reducing those emissions. The bad news is that most concerted political effort seems to be about upstream reductions. Hence the EUETS as the flagship of policies to tackle greenhouse gas emissions.

At the heart of many emissions is cranky psychology. Economic theory based on rational individuals will not give the answers. Policy-makers who fail to identify underlying psychological influences in economically irrational behaviour will continue to use completely wrong tools to address emissions.

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1 Response to The cranky psychology of domestic emissions

  1. Anonymous says:

    The mentality will (hopefully) change. In old times many things were supported by the state and if there is no direct impact on our pocket we do not make the effort to use only what we need. The sad part is that the ones who feel the absolute need to wear t-shirts in January are very young, probably not paying yet their own bills (?)…
    Why is it so difficult to understand that it is “normal” to turn off the light in a room where nobody is in???Couple of days ago, crossing Budapest at 2am I was looking to some 5-7 floors office buildings. Around 60% of the lights were on. Just estimate how much electricity per night/week/year…I remembered that some years ago working in such a building, many times when we arrived in the morning, very early, there were always some lights on…
    It is not useless to start educating kids at very early age how much to use from what they can get…

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