In general Democrats are more sensitive to the negative effect of their actions on others. That is one conclusion of a study done by Cornell University researchers, who shared their findings at the Behavior, Energy, and Climate Change Conference (BECC) now taking place in Sacramento. Cornell Economist Benjamin Ho explained that an extensive human behavior study showed that Democrats are more likely to respond to television commercials and other media used to get a person to save energy, if the message is one that induces in them a sense of culpability—the sense that I’ve harmed another person or the common good by my actions. These messages focus on things such as the effect of energy use on global climate change and pollution. The difference in responses is striking. Democrats respond twice as often—to what is basically guilt—than do Republicans and Independents.

Anne Dougherty of Opinion Dynamics presented at BECC the findings of a study commissioned by the California Public Utilities Commission and the big investor owned utilities in the state. Part of the research involved polling people about some TV commercials put out through the state’s Flex Your Power program. After the commercials stopped showing for several months, 81% of Democrats surveyed remembered the message, but only 59% of Republicans did.

I’m not picking on Democrats, Independents, or Republicans here. Perhaps there is some truth to the stereotype that Democrats are more concerned with the common good of the nation and minority rights and Republicans and Independents are more concerned with individual freedoms and personal responsibility. The point of the BECC conference is to help people save energy. And there are lots of reasons to save energy. Dougherty spoke of a survey done in Kansas that measured people’s motivation to be more energy efficient. The Kansans surveyed responded best to the message that saving energy is “Creation Care”. We should take care of the planet because it is God’s creation. Another approach that seems to work more for Republicans than for Democrats focuses on the practical benefits of saving energy. Saving energy puts more money in our pockets and less in the pockets of people in countries that don’t like us.

Colonel Robert Charette, Jr., a fighter pilot and Director, Expeditionary Energy, U.S. Marine Corp was a keynote speaker at BECC. General James Amos, Marine Corp Commandant, asked Charette to help the Corp save energy. The reason? Saving energy means saving Marines. Marines stationed far away from major cities in Afghanistan have to count on a supply line of trucks to bring them the water, food, fuel, and material they need. Fuel and water make up 70% of what they need trucked in. One Marine unit had six soldiers wounded in a three-month period while they were driving supply trucks. When the unit brought portable solar cells with them and learned to optimize their use the unit’s fuel needs were reduced considerably, and less Marines were put at risk on the roads of Afghanistan.

And if we as a nation achieve energy independence through energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy, it will be much less likely that we will send Marines to war in the first place.

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