Thursday, 10 June 2010

"Bad habits die hard"

Yesterday marked the start of this year's Cheltenham Science Festival, which seems to attract bigger audiences year by year: certainly, if the crowd at the event with this title last evening is anything to go by. Jonathon Porritt was talking to psychologist Stuart Derbyshire, of Birmingham University's School of Psychology, and the ESRC's Dale Southerton about why we find it difficult to change our behaviour.

Dale preferred to consider habits, not as addictions we needed to kick, but as essential matters of routine. They are shaped by our daily context. So, the development of deep freezes – which has happened at a rate "faster than that of the internet" – gets us into a dependency on out of town supermarkets: we have become locked into the freezer habit. And power showers lock us into more water use, as few of us use them solely as an alternative to the bath. Our need is to design habits that are more sustainable: what about Tesco's turning into a food delivery service only, and converting their stores into laundrettes? Tesco vans could then return full of our dirty washing when they have delivered the groceries, and millions of home washing machines would never need replacing.

Stuart, however, generally took quite a contrary tack – possibly for the sake of argument, but I rather doubt it. "I refuse to wash my yoghurt pots," he boasted. Che sarà, sarà. But that drip in the background didn't turn into a cataclysm, at least while this hour lasted.

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