ATLANTA–When people take climate-friendly actions both observable and widespread in their communities, their friends and neighbors are more likely to take similar actions motivated by visibility and trust, according to research by a Georgia State University economist and colleagues.
“Despite the global dimension of climate change, we found local social norms effective in battling it, much like they promote specific behaviors among those ‘Keeping up with the Joneses’ – or now, the Kardashians,” said lead investigator Stefano Carattini, an assistant professor in Georgia State’s Andrew Young School of Policy Studies. “In other words, raising the visibility of eco-conscious behaviors locally can have an outsized impact on global climate mitigation efforts. At the end of the day, people are very much influenced by what their neighbors do.”
For their research, co-authors Carattini, Simon Levin – an ecologist at Princeton University who holds the 2014 National Medal of Science – and economist Alessandro Tavoni of the University of Bologna, Italy, reviewed the literature on the adoption of green technologies and the demand for carbon offsets, lab and field experiments on climate-friendly behaviors and analyses of the relationship between trust and environmental outcomes. They examined cooperation at the local level to determine whether some patterns may scale up to the global level.
“To turn country mitigation pledges into policies, like those that collaboratively form the Paris Agreement, an additional layer of cooperation is necessary at the domestic level,” Carattini said. “By looking into the deep roots of Individuals’ willingness to cooperate, we’ve attempted to identify the drivers of this cooperation among countries.”
The potential for a societal change towards environmentally friendly behavior hinges on how visible and widespread such behavior – and hence the norm – is, they conclude. The more prevalent and observable the behavior, the more likely it is to be adopted by others. As a result, interventions that increase the visibility of otherwise invisible behaviors, such as green energy adoption, can play a key role in fostering behavior change.
They also found that trust and a society’s culture of cooperation are beneficial for tackling global dilemmas. The challenge, however, is in finding ways to increase trust. While using education to spur civic spirit and increase cooperation is a long-term investment, in the short run, interventions aimed at increasing the visibility of cooperative behavior may already contribute to building trust among relevant actors, the researchers said.
“Our takeaway for policymakers is that in tackling climate change, individuals are more willing to cooperate than standard theory predicts,” said Carattini. “This evidence points to a largely untapped potential for leveraging local, individual cooperation into successful cooperative global mitigation efforts.”
Stefano Carattini is an Assistant Professor in Economics in the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University. He is also affiliated with the London School of Economics and Political Science.
He studies energy and environmental policy, behavioral economics, public economics, and political economy. His research combines policy evaluation, to examine how policies work, with empirical analyses of their political economy. He has also been working on cooperative (pro-social) behavior and the diffusion of green behaviors, practices, and technologies. He has published in several journals including Environmental and Resource Economics, the Review of Environmental Economics and Policy, and Nature.