A new study brands Americans 'clueless' on energy-saving measures, saying they expect tiny changes to save the planet.
Nearly 20 percent thought turning off electric lights was the most useful thing they could do — although this is an action that affects energy consumption relatively little.
Very few cited buying decisions that experts say would really make a difference, such as more efficient cars (cited by only 2.8 percent), more efficient appliances (cited by 3.2 percent) or weatherizing homes (cited by 2.1 percent).
Previous studies have found that households could reduce their energy consumption some 30 percent by making such choices.
Lead author Shahzeen Attari of Columbia University said there were a number of reasons for this ignorance.
"When people think of themselves, they may tend to think of what they can do that is cheap and easy at the moment," she said.
In general, the people surveyed tend to believe in what Attari calls curtailment. "That is, keeping the same behavior, but doing less of it," she said. "But switching to efficient technologies generally allows you to maintain your behavior, and save a great deal more energy."
Some of the highest-impact decisions, consistently underrated by people surveyed, include driving higher-mileage vehicles and switching from central air conditioning to room air conditioners. In addition to turning off lights, overrated behaviors included driving more slowly on the highway or unplugging chargers and appliances when not in use.
People typically are willing to take one or two actions to address a perceived problem, said Attari, but after that, start to believe they have done all they can.
"Of course we should be doing everything we can. But if we're going to do just one or two things, we should focus on the big energy-saving behaviors," said Attari. "People are still not aware of what the big savers are."