CICERO - Center for International Climate Research
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Environmental Attitudes and Household Consumption: An Ambiguous Relationship

Erling Holden, Kristin Linnerud

This article analyses the relationship between environmental attitudes and energy use in the home and for transport by Norwegian households. Quantitative surveys were used to find statistical correlations, and qualitative analyses to reveal mechanisms that influence the ability to behave in an environmentally friendly way. Three theses about attitudes, mechanisms and household consumption are presented. Firstly, a desire to project an environmentally friendly image has little influence on energy use in the home and for transport. Secondly, a sense of powerlessness prevents people from translating positive environmental attitudes into low energy use in the home and for everyday transport. Thirdly, a desire to self-indulge prevents people from translating positive environmental attitudes into low energy use for long distance leisure travel. These results have important implications for environmental policy. Public information and awareness campaigns can give consumers information on how to behave in an environmentally responsible way, but tend only to influence categories of consumption with little environmental impact. Structural change can be used to mitigate the effect of the sense of powerlessness and encourage environmentally friendly behaviour, but the desire to self-indulge is much more difficult to deal with.

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