Don't save the planet

To the age-old question of how many conservatives does it take to screw in a light bulb, we now have a definitive answer: Just one, but it will take him weeks to chase down a vintage incandescent bulb because he won't touch an energy-efficient one.

At least that's the obvious conclusion to draw from a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study, put together by researchers from Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and Duke University's Fuqua School of Business, asked hundreds of people to pass judgment on light bulb options.

When energy-efficient light bulbs were touted as being good for the environment — with a "protect the environment" sticker — those customers who described themselves as politically conservatives were less likely to buy them. When the sticker was blank (but everything else was left the same, from price to information about potential energy savings), those same consumers were more willing to give the product a try.

Now, keep in mind that conservatives weren't completely mush-brained about this. They were capable of buying LED or CFL (compact fluorescent light) bulbs that last 9,000 hours longer than standard bulbs, when the price was attractive. But the notion that somehow they were striking a blow for the environment was a complete turn-off.

How have we gotten to a point where being green causes some to see red? Researchers suggest that the issue of carbon emissions and climate change has become so politically polarizing that it's affecting consumer choice.

Perhaps it won't be long before clever marketers start advertising energy-wasteful products on talk radio. Buy the "Big Daddy" bulb and keep those West Virginia coal miners busy supplying the nation's most polluting power plants!

Of course, one suspects this trend extends beyond light bulbs. No doubt there are conservative households that take pains not to recycle or purchase groceries with the words "organic" or "fair trade" anywhere on the label, or enjoy dumping used motor oil down the storm drain when nobody is looking. Sounds like something about which Rush Limbaugh would extol the virtues, doesn't it? Perhaps he already has.

Yet, there might be some advantages in this knee-jerk, anti-environmental stand. Instead of being banned outright, assault rifles could be labeled, "Endorsed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency." Oil companies might be required to donate a portion of their sales to Greenpeace, with motorists required to display a complimentary "I gave to Greenpeace" sticker on their rear bumper after every gas station fill-up. Someone might at least start a rumor that the exhaust of public transit buses was opening a hole in the ozone layer that worsens every time another passenger boards.

To be fair, green marketing isn't exactly winning over a lot of moderate and liberal consumers either, experts say. It's likely a secondary consideration, at best, after quality and price. But the study suggests that it takes ardent conservatives to take a strong stand against the interests of themselves, their families, their friends and the rest of the occupants of their planet. One can only imagine their quandary the day they run out of conventional light bulbs and have to face the fact that staying in the dark is even better for the planet than using the energy-efficient variety. Oh, the pain.

Peter Jensen

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