Ocean Mist

Issues and trends shaping our environment, health and economy

5 Nov 2017

Wiser but not much greener

Posted by Michael Keating

You may know more about environmental problems, but that does not mean you will have a much lower environmental impact. A study comparing the environmental footprints of 734 conservationists, economists and biomedical workers in the United Kingdom and the United States found the conservationists had only marginally lower environmental impacts. They took fewer flights, lowered energy use and ate less meat than the other participants in the study, but the differences were not that great. They appear linked more to values than profession. People in the study who said they cared a lot about the environment tended to have smaller environmental footprints, no matter what their work. “I don’t think conservationists are hypocrites; I think that we are human – meaning that some decisions are rational, and others, we rationalize,” said study co-author Brendan Fisher of the University of Vermont.

Anyone who looks carefully at their own environmental performance will agree. We may know about our impacts, but it is very hard to change many habits unilaterally when most people around us do not change. Study lead author, Andrew Balmford of Cambridge University said: “While it may be hard to accept, we have to start acknowledging that increased education alone is perhaps not the panacea we would hope.” The four authors call for more government measures targeting higher-impact behaviors such as meat consumption and flying. They suggested changes such as providing more affordable public transport, and removing subsidies for beef and lamb production.

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