It has at the individual level too for most individuals. Try to get someone to consider flying less. Look at the size of vehicles on the road. How much meat we eat. Air conditioning to point of needing sweaters in the summer and heating to wearing shorts in the winter.
All personal choices anyone can make, no legislation necessary. We can blame fossil fuel companies, and they are abusing their power, but we have a long way to go as individuals before legislators see that regulation will result in more votes, not less.
The amount of waste is unreal and disgusting. I was laughed at the other day by a coworker because I commented on how much energy we waste by doing this. He said, "But you don't have to pay for it. Who cares?"
That about sums up the attitude here in Texas.
I wear thin sweaters to work during the summer. Last summer, I went inside a gas station after work to grab a snack. The outside temp was anywhere from 90F to 110F. The woman behind the counter asked if I had a medical condition, because, "Who wears a sweater during the summer?" I laughed and explained how my office building is an ice box.
(b) setting up the infrastructure to produce clean energy is not purely clean itself.
Until you can account for every last gram of toxic solvent, mine tailings, electricity consumed during manufacture, and CO2 produced during transport from e.g. solar panels, it's not entirely clean. It's just better than the alternative. Not using the energy is always cleaner.
That idea really excites me! If our energy sources are both clean and abundant, that opens up a lot of doors to technology that previously had uncomfortable tradeoffs. For example, high-energy-consumption recycling instead of mining new raw materials; right now it can be a bit of a wash (sure, we're mining less, but we're burning coal to power the process), but post-scarce-clean-energy it becomes way less of concern. Likewise with a lot of automation tasks. Very exciting!
I work from home so I have the A/C set to be fairly cold. I enjoy a specific brand of bottled water. A major online retailer sells this water cheaper than my local store. I drive a car that gets about 15mpg because I enjoy driving it. I generate approx 13 gallons of trash per day. This is mostly shipping materials and grocery packaging.
All of these examples are the direct consequence of prioritizing myself. There simply has to be a stronger (perhaps economic) incentive that will change the behavior of people like me.
The solar power more or less makes us net neutral, even when factoring in the electricity for the car.
- The solar power will pay for itself in less than five years.
- We don't have an electric bill to speak of. (There is an eight dollar a month charge for just being hooked up to the grid.)
- We pay very little to run the Leaf. (We pay nothing when we charge at home, but sometimes we charge on the road.)
I'm surprised by this outcome. I started out trying to do the right thing but ended up doing something that benefited me financially.
I think people don't realize the happiness and emotional reward that comes with acting on your values in the face of resistance.
That's why my podcast http://joshuaspodek.com/podcast focuses on leadership first. The joy, fun, meaning, value, purpose, and community parts of acting on your values are what make it fun. I'm in it because my food is more delicious, though it's cheaper too.
Crossing the finish line of a marathon is similar. It costs me money and causes me pain, but it's one of the best things I've ever done. People can live life for comfort and convenience, but for me the best things come from activity.
Taken to its logical conclusion, one could follow anyone around and claim they aren't doing the most right thing. The "right thing to do" is a scale, not binary, and it often conflicts. E.g. right thing to do for self health, vs environment, vs for my customers, vs for my employees, vs for my family (and time with them), vs happiness (for self and others), etc. GP is right, you have to align "right thing to do" with "prudent thing to do" and it becomes viable. Otherwise, to many it comes off as preaching as though they are bad people when they only optimize for other right things.
Now I don't drive but I use public transport. However I'd be okay with biking if we had a much better bike lane system in Oslo, Norway where I live. When I lived in the Netherlands I biked everywhere. It was often faster to do than public transport. It felt safe and it gave me about 1 hours of exercise each day.
You feel better from getting exercise, you save money and time. So once cities and authorities actually plan for green living it isn't very hard to do so.
Yet in my native Norway, the green shift has been much more about making life miserable for those who drive, while making few benefits for those who use public transport or drive.
A particular bad development, is ever more centralization by the government in the same of efficiency and saving money. It means pharmacies, doctors offices, police stations, hospitals are made fewer and placed further and further apart. This means public services you used to be able to walk to or bike to, now requires a car.
All this happens while government keeps harping on people needing to use their car less.
There is a lot of things I think our government is really good at in Norway, but transport is an area we utterly suck at. I am very envious of the Dutch.
People like you might want economic incentives, but what they actually need is a better education.
But I do hope that consumers start to choose better habits, because if we don't, we're going to hit a wall sooner or later.
Simply prioritizing yourself and only caring about economic incentives would motivate stealing when you know you won't get caught.
You sound as if you know your waste is hurting other people. You have your values, but if I lived as you describe, knowing my externalities needlessly hurt people would eat me up inside -- no right, wrong, good, or bad, just my personal values. I would change simply to feel better about myself and my role in my community, local and global. Just because people can't see how I'm affecting them, I still am.
If you don't value how you affect other people, my view is to live and let live and hope that people who care enough to act outnumber people like you enough that your waste doesn't hurt that many people.
I suspect that if you started changing a few things, you'd find the emotional reward to change more. I created my podcast http://joshuaspodek.com/podcast for people to hear leaders doing just that.
My experience and observation say otherwise. I have no incentive not to litter when I know no one will fine me. Still I get up and walk trash to garbage cans. Even with all the litter around, most people still walk trash to garbage cans instead of littering.
Most people don't shoplift even when they know they wouldn't get caught. Most people stop at red lights in the middle of the night when no one is around. Etc. Etc.
I've found living by my values the greatest incentive. The alternative is to try to accept that my comfort and convenience come at the cost of others' health and resources, which ate me up inside.
I think most people value clean air and water enough that when the culture shifts, they won't need material incentive.
Laws will follow behavior, not the other way around.
It is also a question of habit and social norms. A lot of what we claim is internal moral values, is really just social conformism. We don't throw garbage around and shop lift in large part because we don't want to be worse people than everybody else we know.
We see this in countries with a lot of cheating on taxes. It is hard to break out of, because nobody wants to pay taxes while knowing that none of their friends pay. Nobody wants to be the lone sucker doing the good deed. On the flip side you don't want to cheat on taxes if you know everybody else is really particular about paying it.
So I think the establishment of social norms is very important. And to do that one might need to create incentives and rules to kickstart people. As the norms develop you could cut back on the incentives and rules.
I've seen this in my native Norway. Fathers and mothers could split the maternity leave. Although almost no father took advantage of this. It simply wasn't an established social pattern. Your boss would look funny at you if you did it. Then the government mandated that some weeks should be taken by the father otherwise those weeks were lost and could not be used by the mother.
Within few years the social norms around father staying home looking after kids, changed radically in Norway. Hence government policies DO matter for how personal values and behavior develops.
Beliefs like this are why I focus on leadership first. There are many examples where we choose difficult things because of the reward
- Sports and exercise
- Learning and personal growth
- Writing free software
- Having children
- Going to the moon
Many other examples. They generally turn out to have other benefits, but they are challenges. Yet we love them.
With all problematic behaviours, citizens fall into three groups: 1) those who refrain out of a healthy sense of personal responsibility; 3) those who persist out of a pathological understanding of personal freedom, and then 2) those who refrain only because they fear personal consequences (ostracism, fines, jail time).
My suspicion is that a well-written, well-hated law can push a healthy chunk of people from pompous group 3 into reluctant group 2. As the next generation sees less of the problematic behaviour growing up, group 3 shrinks smaller and smaller over time.
That's how progressives ended slavery, got women to vote, made gay marriage mainstream, banned public smoking, and how we are now reining in the war on drugs; it's not clear why it shouldn't work to address energy decadence and meat overconsumption.
"Get on board or we'll screw you over", which is exactly the dynamic a "well-hated" law creates, is not how a healthy society is run.
NY-SAFE is an example of a "well hated law". How is it working outside the areas that wanted it in the first place? Culture isn't shifting very much as far as I can tell.
Likewise in spending thousands to upgrade from an average 25 mpg car to a 35+ mpg car, only to drive down the road alongside coal-rolling semis that believe DEF is a conspiracy.
I'm really curious about this as well. I drive an old Honda Accord that gets ~22-26mpg. In Texas I can choose to only purchase renewable energy, but how much environmental impact will be had from my purchase from an electric car compared to keeping this nearly two-decade-old car running? What is the point where this car is better left as recycled metal vs. keeping it running?
- How much you have to drive. The more you drive, the more you can offset the embodied carbon footprint of the EV, and the more fossil fuels you offset.
- How fast your decades old ICE car deteriorates, and therefore decreases in efficiency and increases its operational pollution emissions.
- The embodied carbon footprint of the vehicle parts you replace through maintenance of an old vehicle.
High range EVs with large batteries cancel their embodied footprint in 18 months with a typical drive cycle, even lower if you are mostly using renewably sourced electricity. Lower range EVs take even less time 
It sounds to me like from your situation (old car, renewable power available) the numbers already suggest you should do it now. From the report linked below, driving an EV in Texas today is like getting 52 mpg with an ICE car. If you're using only renewables it is multiple times more efficient (see equivalents for CA and NY)