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

[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

[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.

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,

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Gender and Climate Change. (n.d.). Retrieved November 11, 2017, from

[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.

[6] Gender, Climate Change and Health. (n.d.). Retrieved November 11, 2017, from

[7] UN Women. (2015, March). The Beijing declaration and platform for action turns 20: Summary report. Retrieved November 11, 2017, from


[8] Gender and Climate Change. (n.d.). Retrieved November 11, 2017, from

[9] Ibid.

[10] Environment and Gender Information platform. (n.d.). Retrieved November 12, 2017, from

[11] MacGregor, S. (2017). Routledge Handbook of Gender and Environment. Taylor & Francis. Retrieved November 12, 2017 from

[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.

[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.

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


[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.  

[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.

[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.

[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


[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.

[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.

[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.

[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.

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



Levitan, Dave. (2012). How data and social pressure can reduce home energy use. Yale Environment 360.( 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.


Behavioral Influences on Global Climate Change Perception

Due to a diversity in socio-demographics, geography, climate, and risk management abilities, people around the world experience the effects of climate change in drastically different ways. Large populations of people in developed countries, like the U.S., are detached from the effects of climate change on a day-to-day basis, and thus may fail to fully acknowledge the risks. ‘‘Even though the U.S. has the highest carbon emissions per capita, it is amongst the least concerned about climate change and its potential impact.’’[1] On the other hand, people in ‘‘Africa, Latin America, and Asia are frequently the most concerned about the negative effects of climate change, even though their countries have very low emissions per capita.’’[2] It might be assumed this is because people in these countries are more likely to see and experience the changes first-hand and on a day-to-day basis, but new research is suggesting additional factors are important. Increasing public recognition of the social science of climate communication may help further awareness and formulate mediation programs around the world.

When the relationship between physical vulnerability and public perception of climate change was surveyed in 2008 in the U.S., Brody and colleagues noted that, ‘‘people around the world appear to register climate change risk when the threat or sense of vulnerability is most overt.’’[3] This can be seen in communities that live by the coastlines and/or in low elevation areas of the world, and are exposed to the threats of sea level rise. But apart from physical proximity, the general level of informedness about climate change causes is also seen to affect perception. Shi and co-authors observed in 2016: ‘‘Higher levels of knowledge about the causes of climate change were related to a heightened concern. However, higher levels of knowledge about the physical characteristics of climate change had either a negative or no significant effect on concern.’’[4] Decision makers can utilize this information to form policies and programs that are spatially particular to the people with this increased perception of the negative impacts of climate change due to their physical proximity and position[5] and highlight the causes of climate change during information sessions.

Secondly, socioeconomic and attitudinal variables may be more influential than physical vulnerabilities.[6] For example, ‘‘personal efficacy is one of the strongest predictors’’ for risk perception associated with climate change.”[7] Individuals were more likely to have higher risk perceptions if they felt like they could have an influence on the outcome. This kind of attitude indicates ‘‘increased ownership over environmental problems and leads to a greater sense of responsibility for mitigating adverse impacts.’’[8] Using this information, developing participatory programs where people feel involved in and effective in implementing positive climate change outcomes might propel them to be more proactive.

Finally, risks that are projected a long time in the future are more difficult for the public to perceive.[9] It is important to note that even though some of these risks might be close to the people in terms of proximity, the time frame that is considered for the effects to appear, seems to determine the overall perceived risk vulnerability. This is supported by ‘‘Construal Level Theory (CLT), which describes the relationship between psychological distance and the extent to which people’s thinking is abstract or concrete.[10] These types of longterm risks include change in temperature trends and severe climatic events like 100-year floods and extreme storms. As Brody and colleagues pointed out, ‘‘In fact, respondents located within the 100-year floodplain where flood damage and loss of life is more likely, where increased precipitation and coastal storms are expected, perceive a significantly lower risk associated with climate change.’’[11] In order to make the public more accurately aware of their physical and temporal vulnerability to a particular climate change related risk with potentially long time horizons, the above information can be utilized in designing communication programs that address the problem.

By understanding how people in the U.S perceive the different effects of climate change, improvements in policy making, public engagement and climate education can be made. People tend to determine the impacts of climate change through their perceived personal experience and cultural beliefs. Those ‘‘who have low engagement in the issue of global warming (approximately 75% of the population) are more likely to be influenced by their perceived personal experience of global warming than by their prior beliefs, whereas those Americans who are highly engaged in the issue (on both sides of the issue) are more likely to interpret their perceived personal experience in a manner that strengthens their pre-existing beliefs (that is, using motivated reasoning).’’[12] Thus, even though they might be experiencing the same effects, how it is interpreted is not likely to be the same. ‘‘By better understanding, the scope and severity of impacts associated with climate change, the public’s perception of the risk may be more congruent with the conditions of the local environment.’’[13] Support for climate action should be geared towards different regional spaces according to the most significant influencing factor for that community, instead of having an all-inclusive, widespread approach. Climate change messaging that considers the findings relayed here might be more effective in communicating campaigns.

— Rashi Bhatt


[1] Wike, 2016.

[2] Wike, 2016

[3] Brody et al., 2008

[4] Shi et al., 2016

[5] Brody et al., 2008

[6] Brody et al., 2008

[7] Brody et al., 2008

[8] Brody et al., 2008

[9] Brody et al., 2008

[10] Trope et al, 2011

[11] Brody et al., 2008

[12] Myers et al., 2013

[13] Brody et al., 2008


Brody, S., Zahran, S., Vedlitz, A., & Grover, H. (2008). Examining the relationship between physical vulnerability and public perceptions of global climate change in the United States. Environment Behavior, 40(1), 72-95.

Myers, T., Maibach, E., Roser-Renouf, C., Akerlof, K., & Leiserowitz, A. (2012). The relationship between personal experience and belief in the reality of global warming. Nature Climate Change.

Shi, J., H. M. Visschers, V., Siegrist, M., & Arvai, J. (2016). Knowledge as a driver of public perceptions about climate change reassessed. Nature Climate Change.

Trope, Y., & Liberman, N. (2010). Construal-Level Theory of Psychological Distance. Psychological Review, 117(2), 440–463.

Wike, R. (2016). What the world thinks about climate change in 7 charts. Pew Research Center. Retrieved 11 October 2017, from


Rethinking Traffic Congestion

Our nation is as polarized and divided as it has been in decades.  Partisanship has made the Federal government ineffective, and has come between longtime friends and even family members.  However, Democrat or Republican, there is one thing that all people can agree on: Traffic Sucks.[1]  It eats up a large portion of our days, time that could be used working and contributing toward the national economy, or spent with friends and loved ones, in addition to being a huge source of frustration and annoyance.  But just as importantly, it is a major and unnecessary contributor of pollutants, particularly greenhouse gases.

In 2015, transportation accounted for 27% of America’s greenhouse gas emissions according to the EPA, with 83% of that amount coming from cars and trucks.[2]  Traffic congestion is a significant problem that contributes to that number.  Solving the issue of traffic congestion would make our lives a little easier, and make our cars a little greener.

On the surface, one would think that the best solutions to traffic congestion are to expand infrastructure, such as building or widening roads, and adding additional public transportation.  However, a theory known as the “Downs-Thomson Paradox“ suggests otherwise.  The theory, derived from the work of Anthony Downs and J. M. Thomson, suggests that adding lanes and roads to decrease congestion actually results in commuters increasing their use of those roads, defeating alternate solutions, including public transportation.[3]

A 2013 paper published in the journal Experimental Economics sought to test this theory.  The authors – Emmanuel Dechenaux of Kent State University, Shakun D. Mago of the University of Richmond, and Laura Razzolini of Virginia Commonwealth University – conducted a study with 248 participants to see if the theory was correct.  Their results found the theory to be accurate in all four of their samples, showing that people would increase use of the expanded roads at the expense of public transportation, increasing congestion, and increasing the costs of commuting across the board.[4]

Smart solutions, including the use of technology, information conveyance, and behavioral solutions, might then be a better way to approach the problem of traffic congestion. Incentivizing the use of public transport over personal vehicles would help by removing cars from the road at peak travel times, though the public transit system would need to be adequately funded and reliable in order to maintain increased ridership.  Use of technology could help intelligently route people away from congestion to reduce the traffic burden.  Road sensors, cameras, and EZ Pass data could be used to monitor major thruways for excessive traffic.  That information could then be used to restrict entry to those roads through ramp signals, or conveyed directly to riders already on those roads through real-time information boards.[5]

These concepts are gradually being adopted by cities across the country.  In 2015, the US Department of Transportation initiated a program to help mid-sized cities develop smart transportation systems to help alleviate traffic and improve efficiency through technology.  Seventy-eight cities submitted plans to the Smart City Challenge, with 7 finalists being selected and DOT awarding tens of millions of dollars in grant money to implement their ideas.  These include the implementation of smart traffic signals, and the creation of “mobility marketplaces” to allow consumers to find various transportation options (public transit, car-share options, bikesharing, etc.) in a central location.  The city of Columbus, Ohio won the challenge with innovative proposals including a “connected transportation network,” building a network of electric vehicle charging stations, integrating flow data, and improving access to information.[6]

Elsewhere, the state of Maryland is undertaking a massive initiative to reduce congestion on I-270, just outside the nation’s capital.  To reduce traffic over a 34-mile section of the highway, the state will add smart signals to on-ramps, employing sensors and cameras to determine traffic volume, and adjusting the signals accordingly.  Additionally, the state will install information displays at every mile to convey traffic conditions to drivers.[7]  Information, and easy access to information, is an important factor in changing driver behavior.  By posting traffic information regularly along a highway, drivers have better information, and make better decisions about their route, potentially reducing congestion.[8]

However, while Maryland’s plan is innovative, it still relies heavily on expanding the aforementioned highway, which according to the Downs-Thomson Paradox, is likely self-defeating.  Additionally, last month Governor Larry Hogan announced a plan intended to ease traffic by expanding several major roads in the DC area, including sections of the aforementioned I-270, the Capital Beltway (I-495), and the currently-federally operated Baltimore-Washington Parkway, at an estimated cost of $9 billion.[9]  While they may have some short-term success, in the long term, this plan does not address the problems inherent with congestion, nor does it encourage changes in commuter behavior.

Traffic congestion in the 21st century needs 21st century solutions.  By applying behavioral theory and smart technologies to traffic congestion, instead of simply pouring more asphalt, the inherent problems underlying congestion can be addressed.  Our morning commutes can then become more efficient, leading to more time for work and family, and fewer emissions going into our atmosphere.

Adam Rich

[1] Perks, Rob.  “New poll finds that people hate traffic, love transit.”  Natural Resources Defense Council.  12 September 2017.  (Accessed 11 October 2017).

[2] “Fast Facts on Transportation Greenhouse Gas Emissions.”  Environmental Protection Agency. (Accessed 08 October 2017)

[3] Inglis-Arkell, Esther.  “How the Downs-Thomson Paradox will ruin your commute.”  Gizmodo.  16 August 2013.  (Accessed 09 October 2017); Dechenaux, Emmanuel, Shakun D. Mago, and Laura Razzolini. “Traffic Congestion: An Experimental Study of the Downs-Thomson Paradox.” Experimental Economics 17.3 (2014): 461. Web;

[4] Dechenaux, Emmanuel, Shakun D. Mago, and Laura Razzolini. “Traffic Congestion: An Experimental Study of the Downs-Thomson Paradox.” Experimental Economics 17.3 (2014): 461. Web.

[5] Id.;  “Smart City Challenge: Lessons for Building Cities of the Future.”  U.S. Department of Transportation.  (Accessed 05 October 2017); Carrico, A. R., Vandenbergh, M. P., Stern, P. C., & Gardner, G. T. “Energy and Climate Change: Key Lessons for Implementing The Behavioral Wedge.” George Washington Journal of Energy and Environmental Law, 2, 2011. Pp.61–67;  Yoeli, E., Budescu, D. V., Carrico, A. R., Delmas, M. A., DeShazo, J. R., Ferraro, P. J., . . .Weber, E. U. “Behavioral Science Tools to Strengthen Energy & Environmental Policy.” Behavioral Science & Policy, 3(1), 2017. Pp.69–79.

[6] “Smart City Challenge: Lessons for Building Cities of the Future.”  U.S. Department of Transportation.  (Accessed 05 October 2017).

[7] “Infrastructure + Technology + Information = A Smarter Commute that is Safer and Faster.”  Maryland Department of Transportation, State Highway Administration.  (Accessed 10 October  2017);  “Innovation — Driving Maryland from Slow to Go!.”  Maryland Department of Transportation, State Highway Administration  (Accessed 10 October 2017).

[8] Carrico, A. R., Vandenbergh, M. P., Stern, P. C., & Gardner, G. T. “Energy and Climate Change: Key Lessons for Implementing The Behavioral Wedge.” George Washington Journal of Energy and Environmental Law, 2, 2011. Pp.61–67;  Yoeli, E., Budescu, D. V., Carrico, A. R., Delmas, M. A., DeShazo, J. R., Ferraro, P. J., . . .Weber, E. U. “Behavioral Science Tools to Strengthen Energy & Environmental Policy.” Behavioral Science & Policy, 3(1), 2017. Pp.69–79.

[9] “Traffic Relief Plan.”  Maryland Department of Transportation, State Highway Administration.  (Accessed 10 October 2017);  “Governor Hogan Announces Widening of I-270, Capital Beltway (I-495), and Baltimore-Washington Parkway (MD 295).”  State of Maryland, Office of the Governor.  Press Release.  21 September 2017.  (Accessed 10 October 2017).


Are clean energy policies bad for jobs or are politicians?

If you’ve stumbled across this post, you’re probably a fan of clean energy, but even you may have your doubts about this explosion of clean energy deployment. Is it even possible for an industrialized country such as the United States, one with the highest per capita energy consumption in the world, to really transition to the vaunted clean energy economy? Even if it is possible, such a massive disruption to the energy industry will surely carry a high cost in jobs, right?

If you’ve had doubts like this, you’re not alone. The narrative that clean energy policies kill jobs has been peddled by conservative politicians, ideologically opposed to any action that even proposes to address climate change. The 2016 US presidential campaign gave several candidates a national platform on which to stand and declare that policies designed to spur clean energy development, as a method of fighting climate change, were job killers, sowing doubt in the minds of millions of Americans. In reference to the Paris Climate Agreement, an international agreement which requires that individual countries determine their own carbon dioxide emission reduction goals, our current President, Donald Trump, said it’s “bad for business.” When Marco Rubio was asked to explain his opposition to efforts to tackle climate change, the Republican Senator from Florida, asserted that these efforts would, “make America a harder place to create jobs.”

The idea that environmentally responsible regulations on carbon emissions, regulations which inherently promote cleaner alternatives, are bad for jobs, is almost entirely false. It is certainly true that jobs in the energy industry of the 20th century, built primarily on coal, have been and will continue to decline. While we should make every effort to retrain or otherwise support those who are negatively impacted, the fact of the matter is that, clean energy creates significantly more jobs than exist in the fossil fuel industry.

So if politicians aren’t accurately portraying the job creation benefits of a “green” economy, resulting in reasonable people having doubts about how good an idea this whole clean energy thing is anyway, what can be done to help folks get it straight? One necessary piece of the puzzle is the mainstream media. The media has a responsibility to provide a counter argument that presents the facts. As the job creating benefits of wind and solar have become harder to deny, even conservative bulwark Fox News has begun pointing out that renewable energy can help Trump keep his job creation promises.

But cold hard facts are not enough. Dale Carnegie once said, “When dealing with people, let us remember we are not dealing with creatures of logic. We are dealing with creatures of emotion, creatures bustling with prejudices and motivated by pride and vanity.” When facts are not enough, additional tools are needed to influence we “creatures of emotions.” Social and behavioral science research such as Behavioral science tools to strengthen energy & environmental policy by Yoeli et al, has yielded a couple of useful tools that are directly applicable to the goal of correcting the misperception that clean energy policies are bad for jobs.

The first of the tools Yoeli et al have made available to us, is the theory that people react more desirably when issues are framed in terms they care about. Fox News has a great track record of reframing many issues as “security” issues.  In June of this year, the network took a stab at reframing US participation in the Paris Agreement by sounding the alarm that as the United States pulls back from the global stage, China’s “communist rulers” will fill the void left by the lack of US leadership.

Another useful insight provided by Yoeli et al is that people feel losses more keenly than gains. This helps explain why the job losses narrative resonates so well. 160,000 coal jobs lost hurts the collective consciousness more than the 474,000 jobs created in wind and solar. Fox and other news media could go a step further in their reframing efforts and start comparing the number of jobs the United States has in its wind and solar industries, to the number of jobs “communist China” has. According to CNN, “more than 2.5 million people work in the solar power sector alone in China.” While some adjustment would need to be made due to the differences in population, this could be a useful strategy for reframing job losses in terms of US jobs gained vs jobs “lost to China” due to our failure to lead in clean energy.

So are clean energy policies bad for jobs or are politicians?

— James Kruszynski


Yoeli, E., Budescu, D. V., Carrico, A. R., Delmas, M. A., DeShazo, J. R., Ferraro, P. J., … & Markowitz, E. M. (2017). Behavioral science tools to strengthen energy & environmental policy. Behavioral Science & Policy3(1), 68-79.