Hazards of Green Living

I'm a couple of months late to the party, but here's an interesting Newsweek editorial about "the halo effect."  Sharon Begley argues that a green lifestyle is something to watch out for because greener living could result in less green activism--and it's the activism that really matters.  We need to demand climate change legislation, not just change our lightbulbs, recycle newspaper, etc.

The halo effect is what happens when people do something good and then think their quota has been met--so do something less good afterward.  Begley cites a clever study about green shopping.  156 students from a psychology class were divided into four groups.   The "green look" group looked around at an online store that mostly sold green living supplies.  The "regular look" group looked around at a non-green store.  The "green buy" group bought at the online green store, and the "regular buy" bought at the other store.

After that, each subject played the Dictator game. In this game, the player has to share $6 with a partner, splitting the total any way they like.  The only catch is that the partner can veto the split, in which case nobody gets anything. 

The "green look" group played the Dictator game more equitably than any other group, but here was the big surprise (to me, anyway):  the "green buy" group played the least equitably. The researchers speculated that people try to uphold their self-image as ethical people.  If they do something they see as good, they feel they've met their quota, so can slacken off.

Moral of the story--  If you're doing lots and lots of good green deeds day in and day out, that may dampen your motivation to work toward green goals in more substantive and effective ways.  No, she's not saying we shouldn't change our lifestyles. She's just saying "watch out for the halo effect."  I rather doubt this is problem for people with strong, deep-seated concerns about the environment, but for the general population--yes. Too much green living (most of which does not substantially reduce a person's ecological footprint) might translate into complacency.

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