What is behind the opposition to environmental initiatives and the push toward greener living?
"Down the road, this data will be used against you." Or so says one opponent of mandated installation of smart meters into homes. This quote comes from this article spelling out Tea Party opposition to "green initiatives" seeking to reduce our carbon footprint. If you view climate change as a hoax and government intervention as intrusive on individual liberty then I can certainly see that such individuals could be bothered by such new "green mandates".
But, I think there is a deeper issue here related to property rights and theory of the second best. Do individuals have the property rights to continue to produce their current level of greenhouse gas emissions? Put simply, if you live in the suburbs and drive to work and air condition your large house and if you like to barbecue big steak dinners, you are unintentionally producing a lot of greenhouse gas emissions. This is even more likely to be the case if your electricity is generated by coal fired power plants.
In a first best world, we would collectively introduce a carbon tax and you would face higher prices for gasoline, and electricity and you would adjust your behavior responding to these incentives. We have chosen not to introduce such a tax so we have introduced a large number of piecemeal strategies for trying to nudge households to have a smaller carbon footprint. These include residential electricity report cards (such as the product that Opower produces), land use controls that encourage people to live a new urbanist life closer to public transit and living in multi-family housing.
The introduction of Smart Meters is a first step in providing households with the information about how much electricity they are consuming each hour of the day. Households are more likely to make "good choices" if they have information about the consequences of their actions such as leaving on the lights or not turning off computers at the end of the night.