When former US presidential running mate and Tea Party favourite Sarah Palin appeared at the CPAC conference on the weekend, the biggest cheer – and a standing ovation – reportedly came when she grabbed a Big Gulp soda and took, well, a great big gulp.
Palin wasn’t quite prepared to go the whole 91 grams (of sugar) that is contained in these popular drinks, the type that New York mayor Michael Bloomberg tried unsuccessfully to ban in the interests of reducing health costs, but she made her point: In the material world that dominates the thinking of the politically conservative, Palin wants to be known as the Material Girl.
And the Right wants to know that it has the right to carry arms, install the light bulb of its choice, and consume as much as it wants of whatever it chooses. It underscores the fundamental differences over consumerism, consumption and conservation, and how they influence policies on climate, clean energy and energy efficiency.
(Just for the record, the Big Gulp contains the equivalent of around 24 cubes of sugar. But it seems small in comparison to the Super Big Gulp, the Extreme Gulp, or even the Double Big Gulp, which has the equivalent of 45 cubes of sugar in a single drink).
It just so happened that on the same weekend that Palin was extolling the virtues of small government and unrestrained consumerism, a a university study of electricity use in the US provided further insight into the politics of consumption: it found that Republican voters were likely to consume more electricity than their Democrat and left-leaning rivals.
According to a report in Pacific Sentinel, two economists from Stanford University looked at the energy consumption habits of 280,470 registered voters, and found that left leaning voters are likely to use less electricity than their conservative counterparts. And Green Party voters are even more thrifty.
“Relative to Republican registered households, Democrats consume 5.1 percent less electricity, and Green party registered voters consume 15.1 percent less,” they said. “This differential grows larger in the hotter summer months,” according to the Pacific Sentinel.
“We estimate that during the summer, Democrats consume 6.6 per cent less electricity than observationally identical Republicans, while Green Party households consume 19.1 per cent less electricity than Republican households.” A lot of the difference is to do with air-conditioning demand.
“Because electricity consumption is private information that is not observed by neighbors,” they added, “our results are explained by ideology – not by peer pressure.”
That last point is important. As the Pacific Sentinel suggests, “voluntary restraint … helps to mitigate the challenge of climate change.” Voluntary restraint, however, is not something that is likely to figure large in the land of the Big Gulp, the super Big Gulp, and double Big Gulp.