Correcting misperceptions of energy use 

Team: Seth Watkins, Daniel Lundberg, Tyler Marghetis, 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.  

Curtailment versus efficiency in energy conservation 

Team: Janine Tang, Daniel Lundberg, Adam Swiatkowski, and Shahzeen Attari

(Funded by the Indiana University Office of Sustainability and SPEA)

Whenever people are asked, “What is the single most effective thing you can do to save energy?” the response is overwhelmingly “turn off the lights.” (Kempton et al. 1985; Attari et al. 2010). However, turning off the lights is not the most effective action to save energy. This misperception is very common and hard to change. Here we propose to study when and why people list ineffective actions to this question rather than effective actions. We have collected preliminary data and have begun categorizing effective and ineffective behaviors into four categories: curtailment, efficiency, hardship, and maintenance. Each of these four categories pose different challenges to adoption. For example, investing in efficiency usually requires upfront capital investment. Here we aim to identify the main barriers which prevent people from conserving household energy and analyze reasons for the persistence of these misperceptions. Identifying these barriers will be a required step in addressing the challenge of decreasing household energy use and carbon emissions. 

Waterworks: A water systems game 

Team: Carissa Knox, Mike Sellers, and Shahzeen Attari

(Funded by the Workshop on Political Theory and Policy Analysis & Indiana University Office of Sustainability)

Fresh water is used increasingly beyond sustainable levels. Recently, NASA researchers warned that there is a 80% likelihood that the southwest and the central plains will experience decade-long mega-droughts in the 21st century. Adapting to these risks will require a better understanding of the water commons and increased public willingness to (1) accept water reuse, (2) fund infrastructure projects, and (3) change water use behaviors. In general, people tend to underestimate water use from a variety of household activities and do not have any conception of the embodied water required to grow food. Do people know the steps involved in delivering clean water to the home and what happens to the water once it leaves the home? Correctly understanding these different processes is important to effectively manage an increasingly scarce resource and localized contamination threats. Here, we propose to design and develop an engaging, interactive web-based game that will inform and educate users on how the water system works. We will used this game as a research tool to experimentally test whether increased engagement improves understanding and risk perceptions.

Ad hominem attacks on climate change researchers

Team: Shahzeen Attari, David Krantz, and Elke Weber

(Funded by SPEA and the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions at Columbia University )

In this project we aim to investigate a climate change researchers own carbon footprint in gaining trust and legitimacy from the public. Imagine you are attending a talk from a leading climate change researcher who advocates for decreasing energy consumption to mitigate negative climate effects. You later find out that this researcher has a much higher than average carbon footprint, even after telling you and the audience how important it was to minimize consumption. Do you trust this researcher? Are you now going to change your behavior based on the advice given? The general public’s answers to these questions and overall beliefs on the topic are essential pieces of information for climate change researchers to understand. We hope to provide a comprehensive overview of public perception on this topic to better inform these researchers in their decision making of their own footprint, and how they communicate this to audiences.

Transitions and tradeoffs between food, energy, and water security in Zambia and Kenya

Team PIs: Kelly Caylor (Princeton), Justin Sheffield (Princeton), Tom Evans, Beth Plale, and Shahzeen Attari

Kurt Waldman (IU postdoc)

(Funded by National Science Foundation - Water Sustainability and Climate Change)

Despite massive investments in food aid, agricultural extension, and seed/fertilizer subsidies, nearly 1 billion people in the developing world are food insecure and vulnerable to climate variability. The ability of subsistence farmers to respond to changes in water availability involves both inter-and intra-seasonal adaptation, although most prior research has focused on inter-annual adaptation. We are conducting a comparative study that will implement a novel sociohydrological data collection scheme. We aim to use these data to develop a suite of forecast tools for improving assessment and prediction of food security and the sustainability of dryland agriculture in response to changing intra-seasonal water availability. Kenyan smallholders are often members of community-level irrigation/water governance projects who have access to modest infrastructure and hierarchical agency involvement, whereas Zambian smallholders are mostly independent or socially connected rain-fed agriculturalists who typically have limited information access. In these two contexts we are (a) deploying instrumentation to measure rainfall, soil moisture, and other environmental measures relevant to crop production, (b) collecting streamflow data in a series of catchments around Mt. Kenya where community irrigation projects are prevalent, (c) collecting weekly data from farmers using brief SMS text-based mobile phone data collection on crop conditions, and (d) conducting intensive post-harvest surveys with farmers to understand overall farm management strategies.