Pew Research Centre in the States specialises in exploring social and demographic trends. Its latest piece of research (which shows trends from 1973) shows that the average American no longer has the same attachment to their tumble dryer, microwave, dishwasher or even T.V than they did three years before. The microwave in particular, has taken an hammering. In 2006, 68% of those surveyed argued that their microwave was a necessity, this has now fallen to 47% of Americans. The T.V – a seemingly staple product in the houses of the more fortunate, is now regarded as a necessity by 52% of people, from 64% in 2006, this is particularly prevalent amongst young adults. The proportion of people who regard TV as a necessity is the lowest its been since the same question was asked 35 years ago.

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Despite these possibly positive signs for the environment, the recession has done little to impact the love of the car – with 88% of Americans rating the car as a necessity (down only 3% from 2006). It would be interesting to compare this data to other countries, where public transport links and cycle lanes are seen to be particularly effective, where geographical distance is not so significant and urban planning is not based on the use of a car. Despite the reluctance to give up the car other changes in spending habits and technology uses are likely to have a positive impact and these changes in attitudes towards luxuries and necessities have been across the board – not just amongst those who have been worst hit by the recession, such as the unemployed.

It may be that as soon as the recession is over that our idea of necessities shift once again and for that reason it is imperative that regulatory change is implemented on the back of this positive move toward thrift. One of the most tangible is the UK government’s plan to have smart energy meters in all homes by 2020. According to the Guardian, the new meters will send information on real-time electricity and gas use in households and small businesses direct to utility companies, eliminating the need for customers to stay at home for meter readings or to receive over-estimated bills. Previous studies have shown that smart meters encourage homeowners to cut their energy use by 3-15%, although experts warn that the technology requires consumer education and is not an “install and forget” energy-efficiency measure like loft insulation. They will play an important role in highlighting the amount of energy used by everyday household appliances, showing a surge in energy usage, for example, when the kettle or T.V is switched on. However, some of the most obvious financial gains will be for energy companies who will save time and money by being able to calculate energy usage remotely – let’s hope they invest these savings in developing low-carbon technologies. Although a necessity, smart energy meters won’t solve the issues of climate change alone.

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