On Thursday’s Morning Edition, NPR science correspondent Richard Harris reported the bad news: Americans don’t feel guilty enough for their rampant overconsumption of planetary resources.
“You might think that Americans, renowned for consuming a disproportionate share of the Earth's resources, would feel the most guilty about using up those resources. Not so, according to a new study,” reported anchor Renee Montagne. NPR relayed the latest findings from a National Geographic project called Greendex:
RICHARD HARRIS: The survey seeks out consumers in 17 nations around the world and asks them to describe how much they drive and fly, how they heat their homes, what kinds of foods they consume, etcetera, and how they feel about all of that. No surprise, Americans consume the most, whereas consumers in poorer nations have a comparatively smaller environmental footprint. But it's the peoples' attitudes that caught the attention of Terry Garcia at National Geographic.
TERRY GARCIA: People who have the lightest footprint, the least impact on the environment as a result of their consumer choices, also tend to feel the guiltiest about their impact on the environment.
HARRIS: Those reporting the most guilt lived in India, China and Brazil. Participants aren't average citizens of those nations, to be sure, but consumers who have internet access and other modern amenities.
GARCIA: And then when you look at the United States, where our consumption choices are the least sustainable, we also feel the least amount of guilt.
Residents of poorer countries aren’t exactly proclaiming they would forego an American lifestyle:
HARRIS: It turns out that people in developing nations actually want to own big houses and want to drive fancy cars. So it may not be their green guilt holding them back. Instead, they find themselves with less money in the bank to live the American-style consumer life. And Garcia says when you ask people whether they as individuals have the power to make a difference in their environmental impact, you get curious response.
GARCIA: The consumers who have the lightest footprint also feel the most helpless about affecting the environment. Whereas in the United States, where our consumer choices are the least sustainable, we also feel the most empowered.
HARRIS: Individuals say they can make a difference if they want to. Maybe they just don't want to.
All this research leaves NPR types a little depressed. But then, if they really wanted to save the planet, everyone could get out of their cars and turn off the radio. Would that really make the radio people happier?