Energy-saving Habits Vary in Popularity

By John Flesher and Emily Swanson.

Turn off the lights when they aren’t needed? Check. Lower the thermostat a few degrees in winter? Maybe. Go full-time vegetarian? Probably not.

Americans are willing to go only so far in engaging in habits that conserve energy and reduce emissions that are warming the planet, according to a new poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. The poll adds to research showing that many take modest steps they consider convenient and feasible — and good for their pocketbooks. But actions that would involve significant lifestyle choices such as diet or transportation are a tougher sell.

Roughly 9 in 10 Americans say they often or always turn off unnecessary lights, including 6 in 10 who do so all the time.

About half often or always set the thermostat at 68 degrees or lower in winter to reduce heating, while slightly fewer say they keep summertime air conditioning temperatures at 76 degrees or higher.

“It has to be pitch dark outside for me to turn a light on,” said sandwich shop worker Tay Harris, 25, of Terre Haute, Indiana, who said she wants to help with climate change and considers it common sense to save electricity. “If you have the beautiful sun that God blessed us with, use it.”

The poll found about 2 in 10 Americans often or always use public transportation, carpool, bike or walk instead of driving, while nearly 3 in 10 do so some of the time.

Similarly, while only 5% say they always eat vegetarian meals, another 13% said they often do so and 37% said they sometimes do. Meat production contributes to global warming in numerous ways, scientists say. It generates manure that releases methane to the atmosphere and encourages destruction of forests that store carbon dioxide, the primary greenhouse gas, to clear land for pasture and livestock feed crops.

Overall, 14% said they frequently plant trees. About 6 in 10 city dwellers said they rarely or never plant trees, as opposed to about half of those living elsewhere.

Climate concern isn’t the only reason Americans conserve energy. Previous research by The AP-NORC Center suggests another motive is saving money. The latest survey, conducted last month, shows that some people who don’t believe in climate change routinely take some actions, such as turning off lights and limiting use of heat and air conditioning. So do many who acknowledge the planet is warming but think it’s happening naturally, instead of from human activities.