While climate change may be one of the most daunting and significant crises of this century, the threat is not yet perceived as an urgent one by many. Meanwhile, the cost of recommended actions to address climate change are immediate and very concrete, leading people to want to shy away from acting. Behavioral decision research can help us understand both the challenges in altering the status quo, as well as the best approaches for effecting change on individual and societal levels.
Psychology, economics, and other social sciences play an important role in the study of decision-making related to the environment, ranging from individual choices to broader collective attitudes and behaviors. While a number of models regarding human behavior rely on assumptions about rational choice, there is a broader range of factors that influence people to act in different ways (social/cultural norms, religious beliefs, hopes and fears, differing risk tolerance, etc.). Understanding the full range of these motivations and processes is vital to developing effective policies.
Behavioral research can help us predict human action and choices in the face of uncertainty and understand how to motivate more sustainable outcomes in resource utilization, conservation, or other results of climate adaptation decisions. It may help us identify the most promising strategies for effecting change, such as using social influence, making sustainable choices the default options, or reframing messaging to use language that is more appealing or less polarizing. Our researchers are also studying the process of scientific assessment, the differences between the public’s understanding of environmental challenges compared to scientific understanding, and strategies for more effectively communicating scientific research to inform policy.
Our researchers explore the full range of human goals and processes that shape responses to environmental change and energy technology transitions with the objective of designing choices that facilitate responses with more beneficial environmental impacts.
How do the scientists and experts involved in environmental assessments deliberate and decide on scientific facts surrounding issues like climate change? The multi-year ethnographic research that contributed to the book, Discerning Experts, examines the decision-making process, how expertise is framed and understood, how assessments can shape future research agendas and the judgments of policymakers, and opportunities to improve the process. This research also deals with how scientists convey degrees of certainty and uncertainty and the role this plays in informing policy.
The planet is moving toward a climate crisis. What will it take for governments to take rapid action to move away from high dependence on fossil fuels and severely cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2050? This research aims to provide concrete pathways, exploring the technologies, policies, and behavior change required to quickly decarbonize. The project focuses on the economies of three of the world's major greenhouse gas contributors: China, India, and the United States.