CommuterCent$

Recent technical studies and public opinion have reached a consensus: traffic congestion in urban areas is worsening. Compounding this problem is the impact that cities and metropolitan regions are having on future climate change projections. Currently, a little over 50 percent of the world’s population is classified as living in urban areas; urban communities produce approximately 75 percent of the world’s GDP and greenhouse gas emissions.   The proportion of urban inhabitants is predicted to rise to 66% by the middle of this century – representing an additional 2.5 billion people. As well, the US transportation sector—which includes cars, trucks, planes, trains, ships, and freight—produces nearly thirty percent of all US global warming emissions. In an effort to stay within the safety threshold of a 2°C increase in average temperature, the transportation sector will need to be decarbonized. By addressing the carbon emissions in cities with a focus upon transportation policies and price-setting on carbon, we stand a sound prospect of positively influencing progress on virtually all the other goals (i.e., reduction in emission by 70% by 2050 as compared to 2010 levels).

While federal agencies and national politicians are still debating the authenticity of climate change, local city officials have not been allowed such a luxury. Cities are on the front lines of the environmental crisis that has accompanied climate change and global warming. Finding the solutions to coastal flooding, rising temperatures, and the heat island effect (where urban areas tend to be hotter than nearby rural areas) as well as pollution and carbon emissions will begin at the local level. Mayors around the world are pushing for green development— as energy over the next 15 years is expected to account for 28 percent of global infrastructure investment.  There is a need for concrete action for energy efficiency and cost savings.

Current approaches to improving transportation systems and policies involve building more roads, urban mass transit systems, and better planning of land use. However, depending upon a given region’s geography and existing infrastructure patterns, construction of new transportation sources may prove costly. In this regard, planners have determined that  current approaches, such as adding highways, transit lines, and vehicles, bike lanes, or sidewalks, represents only part of the solution. Transportation policies should pay more attention to improving the effectiveness of existing systems and managing the demand for travel.

In an effort to achieve the global environmental goals of decarbonization, cities should consider how an economically efficient local transportation policy would involve carbon emissions taxed in relation to vehicle miles traveled (VMT) or mileage fee programs in general.

In principle, a tax on vehicle miles traveled (VMT) is an effective deterrent to use motor vehicles[1]. An example of a successful for VMT programs can be seen in the State of Oregon, the first state to implement a mileage fee program. The program allows volunteer drivers to pay or be reimbursed for the difference between the fuel taxes they pay and the road taxes they owe.  It further requires that drivers pay $.015 cents for each mile they drive as opposed to the $.30 cent gas tax.

Previously, road funding revenue was derived from a tax on gas fuel. The return from this revenue source is now being diminished because of growth in the use of fuel-efficient and electric vehicles. Drivers of fuel-efficient and electric cars pay little to no gas tax; that causes a decrease in the amount available for highway funding. In other words, people are driving the same level, if not more, but the currently generated revenue needed to fix infrastructure, roads, and invest in other resources, is declining.

Implementing a mileage fee program for congested roads is another way public officials can raise the efficiency of routes by charging the people who actually use them.  At present, the majority of transportation issues in urban areas is caused by congestion that stems from the commuter use of the same streets during rush hours.  To alleviate overcrowding, one mechanism is to charge a flat rate toll for road use. Another approach would be to institute a variable roadway pricing system.  This would be based upon charging a higher fee on congested roads at times of congestion, and less when demand falls off.

While it is vital to implement a mileage fee program as a form of carbon pricing, it is to do so with the understanding that it can only be the start. To achieve a substantial reduction in GHG emissions as well as decarbonizing the transportation sector, subsidies both to clean technologies and to R&D of clean technologies as well as efficient, targeted regulations will also be essential.

In summary, it is recommended that public officials and city planners, engaged the public in decarbonization efforts by forging a multi-pronged (subsidies/incentives, regulations, specific locations, etc.) plan that would incorporate key pilot projects, measurement of results, and achievement of benchmarks.  With that data in hand, city officials will be able to justify future programs in decarbonization.

[1]A study sponsored by the Federal Highway Administration and conducted by Puget Sound Regional Council, reviewed how commuters would change their travel behaviors in response to variable charges for road use. Results from the study showed there was no single response that participants used to alter their commute in order to save money. Nevertheless, one finding was explicit: financial incentives influenced commuter choices. Examination of the data revealed essential deviations in household commuting patterns that could dramatically reduce congestion through the implementation of variable tolling within a regional road network. When participants were faced with a financial incentive to avoid routes with high tolls, they did so in several different ways. Participants choose to: take fewer and shorter vehicle trips; use alternate routes and times of travel, or combined multiple trips together to reduce vehicle use altogether. Overall, participants would change their commute due to financial reasons and incentives. Even so, once the study had concluded, some participants reported that the changes made in the study had become a new normal for their typical commute. The reasons cited for the continual evolution was the perceived additional benefits from shorter commutes, smoother commutes, and/or extra leisure time on public transportation since their focus could be elsewhere.

Elizabeth Okutuga

 

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How Our Social Media Corners Impact Our Views on Climate Change

In the social media age, we receive our news through sites like Facebook and Twitter. We share videos of our favorite commentator from YouTube. The more we like and share, the more these tech giants send us new information of similar content, views, and beliefs. So, we all feel more informed. But how accurate is that information? How bias is the information we are receiving and sharing?

According to a September 2017 Pew Report, 67% of all Americans are receiving news through social media. Of those receiving news from social media, 45% are receiving news from Facebook, 18% from YouTube, and 11% from Twitter.[1] On social media we are sharing, retweeting, liking, commenting, and reading articles from our favorite commentators who share our same political views.  While not considering our favorite commentator may not have a communications or journalism degree. That commentator may not even have any type expertise in the subject matter. In some circles, that makes that person even more respected.

Climate change is one topic that shows our political divide. In one corner, liberals are the climate change believers and willing to act to combat it. In the other, conservatives view climate change as a questionable and an excuse to have job-killing regulation.

Here are a few examples of what Conservatives are sharing:

Climate Change: What do scientists say?

Instead of Protesting, Climate Marchers Should Read This

Greatest Hoax of the 21st Century! 98% Scientist Do Not Believe in Man-Made Climate Change

14,000 Abandoned Wind Turbines Litter the United States

Virginia goes Don Quixote, Double Down on Renewables and CO2 Reductions, Hurting Poor Most

 

Here are a few examples of what Liberals are sharing:

What people get wrong about climate change

When someone tells you, “The climate is always changing,” show them this cartoon

Kids Granted Permission by Judge to Sue US Government for Lack of Action on Climate Change

Why Climate Deniers Have No Scientific Credibility – In One Pie Chart

For Climate Change, the American Farmer is the Sleeping Giant

Fact check: About those ‘abandoned’ turbines

We are debating climate change realness and impact, instead of solutions. Liberals and conservatives are starting at two significantly different starting points. According to a study by Zhao, Leiserwitz, Maibach, and Roser-Renouf, an individual’s view of climate change and associated risk will be influenced by whether the news source is a science or political one. Individuals that are receiving more science and environmental news on climate change held more science-based beliefs. Individuals that are receiving more political news on climate change held less science-based beliefs. Also, individuals with a conservative ideology had less science-based beliefs on climate change and showed less policy support towards climate action.[2] To be fair even in what is considered mainstream media, the coverage still leaves room for doubt on the consensus of the science on climate change or global warming. Climate change deniers are given equal weight in climate discussions from the mainstream media.

Scientific evidence supports that anthropogenic climate change is real. Carmichael, Brulle, and Huxster (2016) recently conducted research that shows both liberals and conservatives are guilty of supporting messages and information that align with their political point of views and discrediting those that run counter to it. Being confronted with scientific reports on climate change have no impacts on Republican views. Democrats were positively influenced by the same information.[3] As a society, we were already experiencing selective exposure through liberal and conservative TV networks, newspapers, radio, and magazines. Individuals are consciously turning to news sources that clearly supports one’s predispositions. We are maintaining our beliefs by avoiding new information that runs counter to our beliefs.[4]

Social media has given us another barrier to exposure. Holding people accountable is hard when contributors can use pseudonyms, hide behind an Avatar, and delete information that is no longer convenient. Even when pages or posts have sourced information, links can lead to nowhere or to a completely different document. Some may argue for a legal framework for truthfulness on the internet, ban on anonymity, ban on revisions, or a requirement on a fixed creation date.[5] I don’t believe that will help. It is getting your classmate from 7th grade who keeps popping on your newsfeed to recognize their bias against climate change. It is important to inform them that climate deniers really do hold a small percentage in the scientific community, while maintaining a significant percentage of the general public. The scientific evidence on climate change is not liberal or conservative. In the 19th century, scientists John Tyndall and Svante Arrhenius studied the greenhouse effect. Scientists have been building on that evidence ever since.

Everyone needs to understand what you read influences your opinion. That social media does a bad job of informing you of counter information, but a great job of telling you what you inclined to believe. The reader must understand that they have a responsibility to seek out accurate information. They also must distinguish between opinion, political, and scientific pieces. As described in Rosenstiel’s article, readers must be critical thinkers. They must start asking questions about source citations, vetting of sources, and purpose of what is being written. The goal is to prevent you from being misled by people with ulterior motives.[6] Social Media platform can also start a grading system for articles, pages, and users for having incorrect content or making false statements. They can also start using a coded system for articles written by scientific organizations, think tanks, journals, blogs, and so on. This will allow readers that do not have time to search through every detail to gain more confidence in the trustworthiness of what they are reading.

Jamika Harris

[1] Elisa Shearer and Jeffrey Gottfried, “News Use Across Social Media Platforms 2017” (Pew Research Center, September 6, 2017), http://www.journalism.org/2017/09/07/news-use-across-social-media-platforms-2017/.

[2] Xiaoquan Zhao et al., “Attention to Science/Environment News Positively Predicts and Attention to Political News Negatively Predicts Global Warming Risk Perceptions and Policy Support,” Journal of Communication 61, no. 4 (August 2011): 713–31, https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1460-2466.2011.01563.x.

[3] Jason T. Carmichael, Robert J. Brulle, and Joanna K. Huxster, “The Great Divide: Understanding the Role of Media and Other Drivers of the Partisan Divide in Public Concern over Climate Change in the USA, 2001–2014,” Climatic Change 141, no. 4 (April 2017): 599–612, https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-017-1908-1.

[4] Patrick C. Meirick and Elena Bessarabova, “Epistemic Factors in Selective Exposure and Political Misperceptions on the Right and Left: Epistemic Factors in News Use and Misperceptions,” Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy 16, no. 1 (December 2016): 36–68, https://doi.org/10.1111/asap.12101.

[5] Robert B. Laughlin, “Truth Telling and Deception in the Internet Society,” in Transparency in Social Media, ed. Sorin Adam Matei, Martha G. Russell, and Elisa Bertino (Cham: Springer International Publishing, 2015), 257–75, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-18552-1_14.

[6] Rosenstiel, Tom. 2013. “Six Questions That Will Tell You What Media to Trust.” American Press Institute. October 22, 2013. https://www.americanpressinstitute.org/publications/six-critical-questions-can-use-evaluate-media-content/.

Role of Consumer Behavior and Attitudes in CSR activities of Companies

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives provide opportunities to business organizations in addressing the values and needs of their stakeholders, particularly customers. In last couple of decades, CSR has gained significant attention and is considered an important topic of research in both the academic and business world (Fatma & Rahman et al., 2015). The nature of the relationship between CSR actions and consumer responses is still debatable and hence, although there is a lot of research available on CSR, consumer responses to CSR activities still require some research (Feldman and Vasquez-Parraga et al.,2013). Winning customers is one of the top motivators for any organization to engage in CSR activities, but it remains unclear whether the reputation of socially responsible firms attracts new consumers, or whether consumers get satisfaction from acting responsibly by supporting an organization with a good CSR reputation. While there is a good understanding about the social responsibilities of business, there has been little investigation on consumers’ attitude towards those social issues (Brammer and Pavelin, 2004). Consumer purchase decisions involve a lot of tradeoffs and sustainability is not consistently accounted while making purchase decisions. Many decisions consumers make—from buying groceries to choosing electric utility company to light their homes—involve sustainability-related tradeoffs. These tradeoffs are based on different levels (personal or societal) and may include different types of social, environmental or economic impacts, over different time scales (past, present, or future). Hence, when it comes to sustainability and the related tradeoffs, one needs to understand how can consumers can be assisted to make informed purchase decisions based on those tradeoffs. To achieve this, it is necessary to addresses the gaps and focuses on providing a clear insight on the relationship between CSR and customer actions and gain a better understanding on how consumers make purchase decisions based on the various tradeoffs and value sustainability in the context of other product attributes, in turn helping businesses to develop products that meet their needs. Some of the key factors that need to be considered while understanding the role of customer behavior in CSR activities of a company are discussed below.

Consumer Attitude and Behavior
There are plenty of market surveys showing a positive relationship between the effects of CSR on consumer behavior, and that the consumer attitude toward a product or a service is a key factor in predicting consumer behavior (Davids et al, 1990 and Montazeri et al., 2013). This is demonstrated by the fact that consumers show a negative attitude towards companies which use child labor and in turn, they have a positive attitude toward companies that employ survivors of natural disasters (Wong Szeki et al., 2012). Consumers reward the companies that comply with the social responsibility initiatives by buying products.

Consumer’s Buying Behavior
Intrinsic factors (related to physical product characteristics where it includes perceived quality, risk and value), external factors (perceived price, packaging, store image, and advertisement) and consumer attitudes toward the product are factors affecting consumer’s purchase intention (Jaafar et al., 2012). Consumer attitudes have positive and significant impacts on consumer buying behavior. Consumer purchase behavior is based on mental, physical and emotional factors and based on these factors a customer decides whether to purchase or reject a product or a service that meets their needs and demands (Jeddi et al., 2013). Knowing these attitudes help marketing experts to get familiar with the way costumers think, as well as the way they choose various brands, products (Abdul Brosekhan et al., 2013). Understanding consumer buying behavior can help marketing experts in gaining a better understanding of their target customers and could provide the basis to develop appropriate marketing strategies.

Consumer Social Responsibility
There are multiple factors that influence a consumers’ sustainability-related behaviors. These factors include their values, attitudes, goals, social identity, perceived self-efficacy, situational forces, and knowledge (Lombardo et al., 2011). Some studies show that environmental knowledge together with personal values, perceived control, and emotional response determined environmental behavior (Grob et al.,1995). This could also be a result of altruism or pro-social behavior. There is plenty of research that highlights the impact of social pressure and social norms in environmental decision-making process. These social norms and social pressure, in turn, can be influenced by values and attitudes. Since individuals do not like to see themselves as careless consumers (whose consumption is harming environment), social norms can potentially drive unselfish behavior and potentially contribute to public good. Thus, environmental knowledge together with personal values and social norms play an important role in consumer’s environmental behavior.

Lack of Awareness about CSR
There is a lack of understanding on the relationship between consumer awareness of CSR activities and their purchase intentions. This could be attributed to the insufficient information on CSR initiatives which acts as a limiting factor in consumers’ ability to make smart purchase decisions based on CSR initiatives of business enterprises (Bhattacharya and Sen 2004). Hence business enterprises are therefore recommended to provide responsible consumers with relevant information about the social responsibility credentials of their products and services (via product labelling, company website, or advertising) and consumers, in turn, will use this information while choosing products and making their purchase decisions. Business enterprises should try to learn about their customers’ preferences and opinions, so they can create products and services that people will want to buy. Consumers’ opinion about the environmental performance of a firm’s products and services, or other factors such as the labor conditions in firms, can be translated into business action for sustainability by consumers— taking these issues into account when they purchase, invest, or provide feedback to businesses.

Customer Engagement in CSR
Conveying CSR efforts to customers requires a unique approach.  Consumers buying behavior is very complex and is influenced by the perceptions and attitudes of consumers. Companies must uncover customers distinctive passion points, and engage them in a way that speaks to their personal drivers. This can be achieved by making CSR information readily available and easily shareable in a variety of channels and open for a two-way dialogue around issues and initiatives. By providing spectrum of participation opportunities business should let customers know how they could benefit personally, this could also help in clearly articulating how and why individual and collective action delivers impact. Business can play a vital role educating consumers on issues and product attributes, resulting in more informed purchasing decisions. Communicating personal benefits to customers can motivate their ongoing participation in CSR initiatives of an organization.

There are some other entities such as the local government, education sector and non-governmental organizations which should not be neglected as they play significant roles in establishing norms of behavior and social practices having the potential to develop environment friendly lifestyles. Consumer attitude; product evaluation; and word-of-mouth are aspects that play an important role in consumers’ buying behavior and are strongly influenced by CSR initiatives of a business organizations. Companies can in turn benefit from the consumer support, which could leverage its reputation and brand image increasing its ability to attract potential investors, and achieving its short-term and long-term business goals.

Gouri Ganbavale

References:

Abdul Brosekhan, A., C. Muthu Velayutham and M. Phil, (2013). Consumer buying behaviour–a literature review. IOSR Journal of Business and Management (IOSR-JBM), 1: 8-16.

Bhattacharya, C. B., & Sen, S. (2004). Doing better at doing good: When, why and how consumers respond to corporate social initiatives. California Management Review, 47(1), 9– 24. doi:10.2307/41166284

Brammer, S. and S. Pavelin, (2004). Building good reputation. European Management Journal, 22(6): 704-713.

Davids, M., (1990). The champion of corporate social responsibility. Business and Society Review, 74(13): 40- 43.

Fatma & Rahman (2015). The CSR’S Influence on Customer Responses in Indian Banking Sector. Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services, 29,49-57.

Feldman, P. M., & Vasquez-Parraga, A. Z. (2013). Consumer social responses to CSR initiatives versus corporate abilities. Journal of Consumer Marketing, 30(2), 100–111. doi:10.1108/ 07363761311304915

Grob, A. (1995). A structural model of environmental attitudes and behavior. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 15(3): 209–220.

Jaafar, S. N., & Laip, P. E. (2012). Consumers’ perception, attitudes and purchase intention toward private label product in Malaysia. Asian Journal of Business and Management Sciences, 2(8), 73-90.

Jeddi, S., Z. Atefi, M. Jalali, A. Poureisa and H. Haghi, (2013). Consumer behavior and consumer buying decision process. International Journal of Business and Behavioral Sciences, 5(3): 20-23.

Lombardo, R., (2011). The role of corporate social responsibility in consumer behavior: an unresolved paradox, Dipartimento di Economia e Statistica Università della Calabria, 1-15 http://www.ecostat.unical.it/RePEc/WorkingPapers/WP15_2011.pdf

Montazeri, B., K. Sharifinia, H. Hadian, M. Seddigh Arabani and S. Bazarkhak, (2013). The impact of attitude on consumer behavior. Universal Journal of Management and Social Sciences, 3(3): 72-77

Wong Szeki, J., (2012). The study of consumer perception on corporate social responsibility (CSR) towards consumer attitude and purchase behavior. The Hong Kong Polytechnic University.

Crossing the Climate Change Divide by Reframing the Message

It is no secret that the greatest divide regarding beliefs of climate-change is a political one. According to a recent Pew Research Center poll “… polarized views about climate issues stretch from the causes and cures for climate change to trust in climate scientists and their research… .” While overall 48% of Americans believe climate change is caused mostly due to human activity, 79% of liberal Democrats agree, but only 15% of conservative Republicans agree.[1] Research has identified differences in demographics, cognitive styles, and ideology between conservatives and liberals. Compared to liberals, conservatives tend to be more religious, ideological and supportive of the status quo. [2] If we want US policies and actions aimed to reduce green house gas emissions (GHG) and minimize global warming, we need to better understand why there is skepticism among conservatives regarding climate change and re-frame the messaging. Specifically, our messaging needs to be: less apocalyptic, focused on the problem and free market friendly solutions; reframed as a requirement to maintain the “American Way” and be presented by organizations or individuals that can relate to conservatives.

In his article, The Uninhabitable Earth, David Wallace-Wells opens with the caption “Famine, economic collapse, a sun that cooks us: What climate change could wreak — sooner than you think.” While the article reinforces many of the attitudes and behaviors of current climate change believers, apocalyptic communications may be counter-productive in growing greater support.[3] While recent studies have concluded that use of fear is effective in changing attitudes in behavior;[4] there are caveats. Fear appeals are effective at changing simple behaviors that impact the individual especially when actions are available to protect themselves. Examples include practicing safe sex to prevent HIV or smoking cessation to prevent lung cancer. Using fear appeal to change more complex attitudes and corresponding behaviors related to global warming are more likely to be dismissed with a religiously based “just world” belief mechanism. Individuals need to believe that the world is just; good things happen to good people and vice versa. Projected climate change related events such as widespread famine and severe weather are incongruent with our “just world” belief and is met with skepticism or straight denial.[5]

Climate Change messaging is often prescriptive. For example, the 100 by 50 Act, although technically a congressional bill, is the launching of an ambitious national clean energy campaign.  Language in the bill such as “subsidies” and “carbon fee” will strengthen and increase opposition to climate change beliefs and actions. Mandated solutions, restrictive regulatory actions and policies diametrically oppose a conservative ideology of minimizing government intervention and restrictions to a free market. A 2014 study has shown that conservatives are more likely to agree with environmental scientists regarding climate change if “free market friendly” solutions were included in the messaging.[6] With this understanding our messaging must focus on the challenges and consequences and be receptive to innovative solutions that require minimal government intervention similar to the how the organization RepublEcan operates.

While ideology plays a significant role in the perception and disbelief of a range of climate change issues, conservatives’ tendency to support the status quo also contributes to their dismissive attitude regarding climate change. Fossil fuels have dominated the industrial, energy and transportation sectors since the late 19th century. The concept of replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy for electricity generation and phasing out fossil fuel powered transportation systems is a significant departure from the existing socio-economic status quo – requiring a complete overhaul of our energy and transportation sectors, two powerful engines of our economy. This departure from the status quo or “system justification” fuels the conservatives’ denial that climate change is actually occurring. [7] The implication is that the messaging needs to be reframed to include “American” attributes such as: innovation, global leader, and technological superiority. Analogies of past transitions can also be used to show that transformation is American as baseball and apple pie (e.g. Industrial Revolution, US highway Systems, Civil Rights, Information Age).

In closing, the consequences are severe, some government intervention will be required and action to reduce climate change will require a departure from the status quo, but our messaging does not need to emphasize these points.  We need to reframe our marketing campaigns and select messengers that are relatable to those that oppose action to reduce climate change and breakthrough their conservative demographic, ideological and cognitive biases and get them to the table – focusing on solving the problem.

– Bill Garland

 

[1] Pew Research Center. (2016, October 4). The Politics of Climate. Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/2016/10/04/the-politics-of-climate/

[2] Napier, J. L., & Jost, J. T. (2008). Why are conservatives happier than liberals? Psychological Science (0956-7976), 19(6), 565-572.

[3] Wallace-Wells, D. (2017, July 9). The Uninhabitable Earth. The New Yorker, Retrieved from http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2017/07/climate-change-earth-too-hot-for-humans.html

[4] Tannenbaum, M. B., Hepler, J., Zimmerman, R. S., Saul, L., Jacobs, S., Wilson, K., & Albarracn, D. (2015). Appealing to fear: A meta-analysis of fear appeal effectiveness and theories. Psychological Bulletin, 141(6), 1178-1204.

[5] Feinberg, M., & Willer, R. (2011).  Apocalypse soon? Dire messages reduce belief in global warming by contradicting just-world beliefs. Psychological Science, 22(1), 34.

[6] Campbell, T. H., & Kay, A. C. (2014). Solution aversion: On the relation between ideology and motivated disbelief. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 107(5), 809.

[7] Feygina, I., Jost, J. T., & Goldsmith, R. E. (2010). System justification, the denial of global warming, and the possibility of ‘system-sanctioned change’. Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin, 36(3), 326.

Scientists Don’t Write Click-Bait

If you had been paying attention to the discourse surrounding climate change in America before the 2016 presidential election, you understood there were two sides to the story and that the major political parties in America were not in agreement on the topic. You then saw those two sides play out during the election and the campaign season leading up to it. Now, post-election it appears that one side has won-out, the side of climate change denial. Well that’s fine then, right? The United States is a democracy, the people have spoken. But what if there never really were two sides to the story. Instead of looking at climate change as a debate, what if you viewed it as the global scientific community does? In fact, the current scientific consensus overwhelmingly agrees that the link between carbon dioxide emissions (caused by humans) and climate change is as clear as the link between smoking and lung cancer. But if that’s the case, why haven’t Americans caught on? And why is climate change in America still framed as an equal debate?

Truth be told, there are a great number of reasons, but one of the most impactful has to do with the way climate change is communicated. As mentioned above, climate change is framed as a debate in the media, and usually an equal one. This alone presents a false equivalency. Additionally, social science tells us that the way in which things are communicated often matters just as much, if not more, than the information being communicated. A report published just this year by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine goes into detail on this, stating that, “a related widespread assumption in both the scientific and science communication communities is that if only science communication were done “better,” people would make choices consistent with scientific evidence… And although people may need to have more information or to have information presented more clearly, a focus on knowledge alone often is insufficient for achieving communication goals,” (p. 18)[1]. So, for climate change to be communicated in a way that leads to behavioral changes, scientists need to do more than just present the facts. But this need to frame scientific information so that it is persuasive to the public is where scientists run into major problems.

Science is incredibly complex by nature and is often difficult to understand for those not specializing in the field being discussed. But, due to scientific ethical principles, scientists themselves have an incredibly difficult time breaking the science down into easily understood chunks. As stated in the National Academies report, “One important ethical question is how far science communicators should go beyond simply communicating scientific facts and theories in an effort to influence decisions,” (p. 18). This emphasis on communication as a means to influence decisions is where scientists run into ethical concerns. While there is no one accepted code of conduct for scientists, the Department for Innovation, Universities & Skills in Great Britain has developed a “A Universal Ethical Code for Scientists.” In this code, there are seven tenets relating to rigor, respect, and responsibility that scientists observe. The seventh of which is, “Do not knowingly mislead, or allow others to be misled, about scientific matters. Present and review scientific evidence, theory or interpretation honestly and accurately.” And therein lies the problem.

For a scientist to honestly and accurately communicate about climate change, it is necessary for them to mention multiple disclaimers and exceptions. For example, they need to disclose that climate change is a scientific theory, which in laymen terms implies uncertainty. However, Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity used to explain gravity is also just that, a theory. The only difference being that one is accepted as a theory in scientific terms, meaning as “a coherent group of propositions formulated to explain a group of facts or phenomena in the natural world and repeatedly confirmed through experiment or observation,” and the other is not. Another point that scientists struggle to make clearly is relating climate change to recent severe weather. While it is almost certain that the recent surge of extreme storms has been exacerbated by climate change, scientists must clarify that while weather is current, climate operates on a much longer timeline. It is therefore impossible to point to one storm and say with certainty that it is the effect of climate change. But again, to the layperson, this makes the argument for climate change seem uncertain and open for debate. Therefore, it is time for a change.

Instead of expecting scientists to start communicating “better,” maybe the solution is to allow others to communicate on behalf of the science. Good scientists will always do everything in their power to present their work as objectively as possible. But social science has told us that this is not the most effective way to communicate and influence people’s decisions. So instead of expecting scientists to steer around these ethical principles, we as communicators should be the ones to try and influence people’s decisions. By first making a greater effort to understand the primary scientific information, we can change the discourse on climate change from one of debate to one of acceptance by then communicating that science in the ways we know are most effective and influential.

Stephanie Dresen

[1] National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. Communicating Science Effectively: A Research Agenda. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/23674.

The Future Is Female and … Hot

Today’s media and press covers the vast majority of gender inequality issues that contributes to social discourse and hotly debated national policies, but did you know that the disparities between men and women extends into the realm of climate change? We’ve all heard about the gender-wage gap, but what is the gender-climate change gap? Studies have shown that women are more likely than men to believe in climate change and have climate change disproportionately affect them. In a poll conducted by Pew Research Center, seven developed countries were polled and the results show a sizeable margin between men and women’s answers when asked if global climate change is a serious problem, if they are concerned that global climate change will harm them personally, and if they will have to make a major lifestyle change to reduce the effects of global climate change.[1] In the United States alone, women by a margin of as wide as 17 percentage points believe that global climate change is a serious problem. The margin widens to 21 percentage points when asked if they believe climate change would harm them personally.[2] Out of all the wealthy nations polled, the U.S. showed the greatest margin between men and women. One reason for could be because of political affiliation as American women are more inclined to align with the Democratic party. This also holds true in the other countries polled as women in those countries support more left-leaning parties.[3]  Another reason for the gender divide is that perhaps women feel the they shoulder the burden of climate change. Additionally, women also face higher health risks that can be exasperated by climate change.

While the Pew Research Center poll only focused on wealthy nations, the disparities don’t only apply to developed countries. Women in developing countries disproportionately carry a higher burden and face higher health risks from the impacts of climate change.[4] In a gender and climate change case study done using household questionnaires, key informant interviews, and focus group discussions on smallholder farmers in Tanzania, women were found to shoulder 63% of homestead responsibilities, which include duties such as ploughing and crop sowing.[5] The traditional roles women typically play in households consists of preparing and cooking food and meals. As a result, climate change is seen as women’s biggest strain as it increases their livelihood, household and caring burdens.[6] The intersectionality of gender and climate change is also evidenced in how women and men are likely to experience climate change differently. As stated in the United Nations Women Summary Report: The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action Turns 20, “women’s dependence on and unequal access to land, water and other resources and productive assets, compounded by limited mobility and decision-making power in many contexts, also mean that they are disproportionately affected by climate change. Natural disasters, including those related to climate change, have greater impacts on poor women.”[7] Climate change also disproportionately harms the world’s poor, of which women make up the majority.[8]

A solution to the gender-climate change gap is to incorporate more women as key decision makers in climate change and conservation polices. Women are often left out in this male-dominated field that dictates environmental policies that significantly affect women’s livelihoods. The discriminatory input and contribution heightens and multiplies gender inequalities.[9] One organization, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has created a data platform, called the Environment and Gender Information (EGI) report, to illustrate the importance of gender-responsive communication and reports the extent, or lack of, to which women drive key environmental policies and decisions in major national initiatives. IUCN works extensively in this niche field, hoping to champion gender action plans that establish gender-responsive government, climate change programs and planning across sectors.[10] Additionally, in the early 1990s eco-feminism was created along with Women, Environment and Development (WED).[11] WED worked with rural and native women and had a strong feminist voice in the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro.[12] Climate change should not be viewed in isolation. It is so intrinsically linked with gender inequalities that the long-term solution to the gender-climate change gap is to acknowledge the divide and make strides towards promoting women contributors in climate change policy-making across all industries.

Cheryl Chan

[1] Zainulbhai, H. (2015, December 2). Women, more than men, say climate change will harm them personally. Pew Research Center. Retrieved November 9, 2017, http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/12/02/women-more-than-men-say-climate-change-will-harm-them-personally/

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Gender and Climate Change. (n.d.). Retrieved November 11, 2017, from http://unfccc.int/gender_and_climate_change/items/7516.php

[5] Mnimbo, T. S., Mbwambo, J., Kahimba, F. C., & Tumbo, S. D. (2016). A gendered analysis of perception and vulnerability to climate change among smallholder farmers: the case of Same District, Tanzania. Climate and Development, 8(1), 95–104. https://doi.org/10.1080/17565529.2015.1005038

[6] Gender, Climate Change and Health. (n.d.). Retrieved November 11, 2017, from http://www.who.int/globalchange/GenderClimateChangeHealthfinal.pdf

[7] UN Women. (2015, March). The Beijing declaration and platform for action turns 20: Summary report. Retrieved November 11, 2017, from http://www.unwomen.org/~/media/headquarters/attachments/sections/library/publications/2015/sg%20report_

synthesis-en_web.pdf

[8] Gender and Climate Change. (n.d.). Retrieved November 11, 2017, from http://unfccc.int/gender_and_climate_change/items/7516.php

[9] Ibid.

[10] Environment and Gender Information platform. (n.d.). Retrieved November 12, 2017, from http://genderandenvironment.org/egi/

[11] MacGregor, S. (2017). Routledge Handbook of Gender and Environment. Taylor & Francis. Retrieved November 12, 2017 from https://books.google.com/books?id=9gUqDwAAQBAJ

[12] Ibid.

Using Social Science to Give Solar Pricing Power Back to Customers

There are many ways current policies and events can affect solar consumers and their purchasing power. Similar to net metering, the U.S. International Trade Commission’s (USITC) remedy for Suniva, SolarWorld, and now First Solar’s 201 Petition represents a form of regulation that effects solar customers without their direct involvement. For some background, bankrupt solar manufacturer Suniva filed a petition with the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) on April 26, 2017 calling for new tariffs on solar cells and minimum prices for solar modules imported from around the globe. The petition alleges that 1,200 manufacturing jobs in the United States have been lost and wages have fallen by 27% from 2012-16. SolarWorld America, another bankrupt solar manufacturer, and First Solar, a failing business, subsequently joined Suniva’s petition. The ITC, a quasi-judicial federal agency, informed the World Trade Organization that it is investigating whether Suniva and SolarWorld deserve “global safeguard” protection from their competitors. The ITC render a judgment on Sept. 22 and, because Suniva’s petition was affirmed, the commission will submit official recommendations to President Trump by Nov. 13. The president will then make a final decision on whether and how to provide relief.

While most Americans give priority to developing alternative energy over fossil fuels, the 201 Petition, which allows President Trump to impose tariffs on imports of crystalline silicone modules, can potentially hurt the United States’ international relations, decrease domestic manufacturing jobs, and increase the price of solar for customers. There has not been any polling done on solar customers however, PVTech did run an informal, very un-scientific poll on solar companies at a solar trade conference and found overwhelming disapproval of remedy in the form of tariffs [1]. These gut check sort of results are the only visibility currently available on public impression of this case.

In a hearing on October 31st, the commissioners announced their greatly anticipated remedy proposals that will be included in a final report to President Trump. The commissioner’s rulings varied in severity and below are the top lines:

  • None of the commissioner’s proposals are as aggressive as the ones Suniva/SolarWorld wanted
  • Chairman Schmidtlein (an Obama Democrat appointee) has the most stringent recommendation.
  • Commissioners Williamson and Johnson submitted a joint recommendation that allows for 50% more quota volume than Schmidtlein’s offer.
  • Commissioner Broadbent has the least strict proposal which calls for a larger quota and an import license auction. She would like proceeds from the auction to go towards promoting the domestic CSPV manufacturing industry. Her proposal would only limit imports by about a third.

The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) has released a public statement commending the commissioners for not recommending anything as severe as what Suniva/SolarWorld wanted. Following the report, the Trump has until January 12th to impose “safeguard” tariffs or quotas. His decision does not have to follow the recommendations from the commissioners. The solar industry will wait to see if he sides with manufacturing workers and our foreign allies or these two bankrupt companies and wall street.

This case has really exposed a hole in social science research. Because actions like this 201 Petition are done in a consumer- less vacuum, constituents have no way to influence the commissioners or he ultimate decision maker, Donald Trump. Taking a look at Stephen Ansolabehere and David M. Konisky’s “Cheap and Clean” [2] paper, there is an element of price sensitivity that could be applied and tested here. By looking at extensive amounts of survey data, the pair found that, “that beliefs about the costs and environmental harms associated with particular fuels drive public opinions about energy.” Using this notion, pollsters could survey solar customers using modeling from the different proposals from the ITC. These results could be used in the media (including Twitter) to provide the customer perspective to President Trump and his advising staff. More social science research in this field could be used to influence President Trump on this very complex issue.

Shruti Kuppa

[1] Parnell, John. “Lessons from PV Tech’s unscientific Section 201 straw poll at SPI.” PVTech. September 21, 2017. Accessed on November 1, 2017. https://www.pv-tech.org/editors-blog/lessons-from-pv-techs-unscientific-section-201-straw-poll-at-spi.

[2] Ansolabehere, Stephen and Konisky, David M. Cheap and clean: how Americans think about energy in the age of global warming (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2016). Accessed on November 1, 2017. https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/cheap-and-clean.

Wind: A Force to be Reckoned With

Wind energy is closer to becoming the next unstoppable resource with every rotation of wind turbine blades in the United States. According to the American Wind Energy Association, wind is being harnessed for electric power in all 50 states and the emerging power market has spurred the creation of 100,000 jobs. Not only is this renewable energy resource generating jobs, those who allow a turbine to be built on their property, in states such as Michigan, can be paid $10,000 to $14,000 annually.

A new clean industry for areas of the country in need of economic uplift and investments? That seems like a win-win.

The numbers show that the country as a whole agrees. In March 2017, wind and solar power together accounted for 10% of the U.S. electricity generation for the first time. What’s more is that 65% of Americans are in support of prioritizing the development of renewable generation over fossil fuels. But there’s a catch… There’s always a catch. Some members of the public are not against wind-powered generation, but find that they are against turbines on their turf. This barrier has been coined in the form of an acronym, NIMBY (Not-In-My-Backyard). NIMBY is a pejorative description for the public’s resistance to new developments within the bounds of their community.

Typically, those who prescribe to NIMBYism are accustomed to receiving their power from a centralized electricity system in which generation plants remain far from the populations they serve.[1] The opposition to wind power systems is due proximity: the stakeholder may state that turbines are too ugly, loud, etc. to be sited near their homes. The inability to resolve NIMBYism has contributed to a slower growth of wind energy development in the United States compared to rooftop-friendly solar. Why is this behavior trumping the logic of a clean energy future that more than half of Americans yearn for?

According to social science theory, the prospect of a change to a well-known place can elicit a negative association with a well-intentioned action. Place attachment theory describes the phenomena as a change that develops into a threat to the individual’s identity and the positive emotional bond an individual has maintained towards a location such as their home.[2] Place identity is rooted in an individual’s “sense of self” and how physical attributes of a location contribute to the development and stability of their identity.[3] The intrinsic need to protect the visual aspects of one’s home can become a deterring factor for progress, but there are ways to address this challenge.

The role of change facilitator falls upon policy makers and developers who can step in to engage the public. Petrova’s ENUF framework for reaching common ground on development issues is a behavioral approach.[4] ENUF stands for Engage, Never use NIMBY, Understand, and Facilitate:

  • Engagement is the initial step to dampening opposition because the facilitation of “fact finding” at the beginning of the decision-making process permits citizens to voice their opinions while learning and discussing options.[5] The type of public engagement and timing of the meeting must be determined prior to the announcement of the project.
  • Community aesthetics are not the only concerns for those who advocate for NIMBYism. People can have environmental and health concerns as their reasons for not getting behind energy developments in their communities. That is why the term NIMBY should never be used in an argument. Instead, the decision maker should use the opportunity to “build institutional capital” in the form of “knowledge resources… and the capacity for mobilization through collaborative planning.”[6]
  • Every wind project is different because of the local aspects to siting. By understanding both sides’ motives, a balanced approach can be determined by compromising on a path forward. Yielding to the concerns of the community without dismissing emotional bonds will significantly help developers successfully site wind plans.[7]
  • The institutionalization of local planning and decision-making processes will aid in accommodating the public’s concerns and reasonably changing communities’ landscapes to create a clean energy future. Acceptance of wind projects will increase when local citizens feel as if their opinion is valued and that they are decision-makers themselves.

The ENUF framework should be explored further as an adaptive solution for mitigating public resistance to renewable resource development. Giving the public a voice as well as informal educational opportunities can yield better policy results and, the all-important, clean energy future that the majority of Americans desire to live with.

Laura Hersch

References

[1] Rand, J., & Hoen, B. (2017). Thirty years of North American wind energy acceptance research: What have we learned? Energy Research & Social Science, 29, 135–148. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.erss.2017.05.019  

[2] Devine-Wright, P. (2009). Rethinking NIMBYism: The role of place attachment and place identity in explaining place-protective action. Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology, 19(6), 426-441. https://doi.org/10.1002/casp.1004

[3] Ibid., 428

[4] Petrova, M. A. (2013). NIMBYism revisited: public acceptance of wind energy in the United States. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change, 4(6), 575–601. https://doi.org/10.1002/wcc.250

[5] Ibid., 589

[6] Ibid., 590

[7] Ibid., 590

Offshore Wind Projects in the Atlantic: Fostering Community Involvement to Bolster Support for Planned and Future Projects

Offshore wind projects offer coastal states an option for diversifying their energy profiles with new renewable energy generation, all while creating jobs and improving the air quality for individuals living in these coastal communities. Offshore wind projects have been utilized by countries around the globe; however, more projects are now being planned and implemented within the United States. These renewable wind projects are desirable for many reasons, but the main benefits of offshore wind farms are increased power generation compared to land-based wind farms, and that they do not take up any of the limited land resources in developed areas.  Utilizing offshore wind power generation would allow for currently unused renewable wind resources to be utilized by these coastal regions. The available wind resources off the eastern coast of the United States in the Atlantic Ocean can assist Atlantic states meet future energy demands.  Despite the benefits offshore wind provides these coastal communities, many projects are contested or prohibited by local community members. Limited knowledge of the potential benefits, social-gaps, and the not in my backyard (NIMBY) effect can put an end to a renewable project before it even begins. Combating these issues is critical to the future success of planned offshore wind projects in the Atlantic.

Even though “national polls and surveys show that there are high levels of public support for developing renewable energy, local opposition has led to delays and cancellations of many large-scale renewable projects around the world.”[i]  Local opposition occurs because of an ‘individual gap’ and ‘social gap’ when citizens learn of a planned renewable energy project in their community. These gaps are related to the positive community attitudes for renewable energy projects, but then a lack of support for a project to be executed. Both ‘individual gaps,’ and ‘social gaps’ can be used to explain low success rates of planned renewable energy projects even though there is widespread public support.[ii]  The individual gap is effectively captured by the phrase “not in my backyard,” or NIMBY. An individual will find a renewable project more desirable or is more willing to support a renewable project if it is not implemented within their community. As soon as a project is planned to be constructed in their community or “backyard,” opposition to the project will grow.[iii] In addition to this ‘individual gap,’ opposition also manifests via the ‘social gap’ within a community. ‘Social gap’ opposition to offshore wind projects can include: “aesthetic impacts, harms to wildlife, and impacts to recreation and the local finishing industry.”[iv] To account for both ‘individual gaps’ and ‘social gaps,’ more research needs to be conducted to understand better how to target coastal communities on the eastern seaboard to bolster the expansion of offshore wind projects mitigating both ‘social’ and ‘individual’ gaps. One way to mitigate the ‘social’ and ‘individual’ gaps would be to increase community involvement. Evidence shows that once members of the target community learn about the various benefits of planned offshore wind project, and if they feel included in the decision-making process, support will be higher for these projects because the local community members will feel more invested.[v]

To improve this situation, community engagement and education is crucial. In the paper, Will communities “open-up” to offshore wind? Lessons learned from New England islands in the United States, Klain et. al used case studies for three existing and planned offshore wind projects in New England to study how community engagement improved support for offshore wind projects. When the decision and planning process for these offshore wind projects included local community members, opposition to the projects was significantly reduced. When local community members were involved in the negotiation process and learned of the many benefits, support for these offshore wind projects grew. Both the ‘individual gaps’ and ‘social gaps’ were bridged and opposition reduced when community outreach and involvement throughout the decision and planning process occurred. The utilization of “bidirectional deliberative learning and custom-tailored community benefits” created an active community outreach environment that had the highest success rate.[vi] Implementing similar practices in other coastal communities where offshore wind projects would be optimal will lead to increased community support and the decrease to the oppositional foundation of ‘individual’ and ‘social’ gaps.

Carolyn Mullen

References

[i] Klain, S. C., Satterfield, T., MacDonald, S., Battista, N., & Chan, K. M. A. (2017). Will communities “open-up” to offshore wind? Lessons learned from New England islands in the United States. Energy Research & Social Science, 34(Supplement C), 13–26. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.erss.2017.05.009

[ii]  Sokoloski, R., Markowitz, E., & Bidwell, D. (2017). Public estimates of support for  offshore wind energy: False consensus, pluralistic ignorance, and partisan effects. Energy Policy, (112), 45–55. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1016/j.enpol.2017.10.005

[iii]Ibid, 45

[iv] Ibid, 46.

[v] Klain, S. C., Satterfield, T., MacDonald, S., Battista, N., & Chan, K. M. A. (2017). Will communities “open-up” to offshore wind? Lessons learned from New England islands in the United States. Energy Research & Social Science, 34(Supplement C), 13–26. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.erss.2017.05.009

[vi] Ibid, 17

Knowledge is “Green” Power

According to Dave Levitan (2012), a major issue in encouraging sustainable energy use is simply getting consumers to care enough to participate in programs. Dave clarifies that even tens of millions of customers who have access to data and software still may not be using it, creating a dark shadow over a potential gold mine of electricity savings. This is a missed opportunity when addressing climate change, because consumers are less likely to alter their behaviors if they are kept in the dark about where their energy is coming from, the inefficient use of that energy, or how a lack of action could be costing them. To solve this issue, more utilities should use green power programs to encourage consumers to choose clean energy resources to power their homes. Moreover, if energy providers complemented their green pricing programs with a method of providing energy consumption feedback, consumers can be assisted towards a cleaner and more energy efficient future.

Green Power Programs
According to Matek (2016), the most important strategy of increasing public adoption for green power programs is defaults: “To be more specific, the most successful programs with the highest enrollment are ones that make voluntary green power purchasing programs the default option” (Matek, 2016, p. 56). Although this seems like the most logical choice, it is an infrequent one, with U.S. participation in 2014 at roughly 5 percent for voluntary programs. However, making the desired behavior the default reduces the upfront challenge for the consumer to change their behavior. “Making a behavior more convenient, reducing the physical demands required for an action by making the pro-environmental behavior the default, can lead to significant changes in behavior” (Matek, 2016, p. 56). Change is difficult, but guidance is a blessing.

Feedback
Understanding the role of cognitive accessibility in a consumer’s energy portfolio is an integral factor for “nudging” the consumer towards more efficient energy use.  “Individuals use the frequency that they interact with energy-consuming devices when estimating energy consumption” (Schley and DeKay, 2015, p. 30). This explains why people believe thaht “turning off the lights” is the most effective way to measure energy conservation — the behavior is frequent, and easily cognitively accessible. Although “turning off the lights” is an adequate first step towards sustainable behaviors, it is not going to make drastic changes to the end-user’s carbon footprint, and it takes away from other, more important initiatives that will have a greater impact.

Moreover, even if a consumer switches to a green power purchasing program, they must take the necessary steps in reducing overall consumption, or they could see a net gain in their utility bill. A combination of tools, such as net meters, smart thermostats, and efficient appliances, can mitigate the initial increase in costs with reductions in the use of electricity. In other words, as the demand for clean energy increases, the supply increases to meet the demand, but with a complementary energy conservation strategy led by the utility provider, households will see a reduction in both their energy use and costs.

Come Together
Solving the serious threat of climate change will take a multi-dimensional approach by consumers, industry, and policymakers. The solution is complex, but if 1) the laws of supply and demand push the costs of clean energy down, 2) utilities provide a service other than a smoke screen of fossil fuel pollutants, and 3) public officials admit the harsh reality of a changing climate, society will be able to take a major step towards a healthier ecosystem.

— Auria Asadsangabi

 

References

Levitan, Dave. (2012). How data and social pressure can reduce home energy use. Yale Environment 360.(http://e360.yale.edu/features/how_data_and_social_pressure_can_reduce_home_energy_use4 December 2012. Web accessed on 2 November 2017.

Matek, B. (2016). An examination of voluntary green power programs at U.S. utilities using behavioral science principles. The Electricity Journal, 29(3), 55-63.

Schley, D.R. & DeKay, M.L. (2015). Cognitive accessibility in judgments of household energy consumption. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 43, 30-41.