Motivating climate change solutions by fusing facts and feelings

Team: Shahzeen Attari

(Funded by Carnegie Corporation, Andrew Carnegie Fellowship) 

Human behavior is responsible for the relentless rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration from fossil fuel combustion, and the planet is on course for drastic climate change impacts in the decades to come. In order to avoid the worst of these outcomes and protect the environment from further degradation, individual and institutional behaviors need to change in step with national climate policies. As a Carnegie Fellow, I aim to identify keys to transforming public sentiment in favor of climate change protection through three research challenges. (1) Articulate and compile, through expert elicitation and in-depth literature reviews, a detailed library of politically feasible climate solutions to reduce carbon emissions in the U.S. energy system. (2) Identify the psychological barriers that limit public support for these solutions using multiple online experiments to distill effective behavioral and policy heuristics derived from the expert elicitation. The goal is to test how novices understand and act on these heuristics, including increasing support for the policies and the pathways identified. (3) Investigate how to facilitate significant behavior change and positive public sentiment by teaching the expert-derived heuristics supplemented by emotional and cognitive scaffolding

Understanding and correcting misperceptions of energy use 

Team: Joe Kantenbacher, Deidra Miniard, David Landy, and Shahzeen Attari

(Funded by National Science Foundation - Decision, Risk, and Management Science) 

Prior research has shown that people’s perceptions of energy and water use are marred by systematic and sometimes large inaccuracies. On average, water use is underestimated by a factor of 1.6 to 2, and energy use by a factor of 2.8 (Attari, 2014; Attari, DeKay, Davidson, & Bruine de Bruin, 2010). Why do people perceive water use more accurately than energy use? One reason why perceptions of water use are more accurate may be due to the consistent physical characteristics of water as opposed to energy, which is transformed based on the end-use activity (e.g., heating, cooling, lighting, motion). Another reason for greater accuracy for water use is that most Americans make decisions about gallons of liquid nearly every day, e.g., buying gasoline or milk, therefore the unit of measurement may be much more familiar for water use than for energy use. These suggested hypotheses still remain to be tested. Here, we first focus on correcting misperceptions of energy use by testing the effect of different anchors on the estimation task. We then aim to explore how "manufactured heuristics" can improve perceptions and decision making for energy. Lastly, we aim to explore how these corrections translate to improving perceptions of water use.  

Motivating climate solutions in Indiana  

Team: Joe Kantenbacher, Deidra Miniard, Nathan Geiger, Landon Yoder, and Shahzeen Attari

(Funded by Environmental Resilience Institute, funded by Indiana University’s Prepared for Environmental Change Grand Challenge initiative) 

Human behavior is responsible for the relentless rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration from fossil fuel combustion, and the planet is on course for drastic climate change impacts in the decades to come. The impacts of climate change feel geographically and temporally distant and addressing climate change feels expensive and painful. One potentially useful but underdeveloped pathway for motivating public support of climate policies involves identifying, testing, and deploying powerful narratives that effectively present the drastic system-wide changes we need to stabilize carbon dioxide concentration and provide people pathways of achieving these goals. In this project we aim to investigate the narratives that Hoosiers use to imagine what a sustainable future could be in 50 or 100 years from now. Participants will identify pathways to achieve their sustainable futures that are self-generated rather than externally applied. These self-generated futures and pathways provide people emotional and cognitive scaffolding that allow people to compress time, bringing participants closer the distant future. A better understanding of how people imagine the future will inform the development of new narratives and stories that can inspire us to create a more sustainable state and nation. Stories allow us to fuse facts and feelings in a way that is powerful and complex. We aim to test how these self-generated stories can transform public support for decarbonization of our state.