In suburban New Jersey, solar panels are being installed on telephone poles. The people are debating whether this is progress.
A few quotes from the NY Times article; “Sean Smith, a 43-year-old airline sales supervisor in Fair Lawn, said he was fine with the seven panels on his street, especially “if it’s helping the greenhouse effect.” “We have the kids to think about,” he said.”
Others disagree; “”I hate them,” Mr. Olsen, 40, said of the row of panels attached to electrical poles across the street. “It’s just an eyesore.” Around the corner lives Tom Trobiano, 61, a liquor salesman, now adapting to the lone solar panel hanging over his driveway. “When it’s up close,” he said, “the panel takes on a life of its own.””
The interesting issue here is “green civic engagement”. The solar poles may be ugly and change the look of the streets but if a person cares enough about climate change then on net this is a “win” for the suburban New Jersey town. Now, a realist would say that New Jersey is too small to change the world but such free rider logic only resonates with an economist. The surprising willingness to not free ride and to step up is an ongoing topic in social science research. Dora L. Costa and I studied this years ago in the context of who deserts during war time. In the U.S Civil War, desertion was the rational strategy to survive the war but it is the ultimate free riding. A broader overview of this work is posted here . Returning to environmental issues, who is civically engaged? My findings won’t shock you.