Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Household Actions Can Help Reduce U.S. Carbon Emissions, Save Money

The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reports that household actions can, indeed, make an important difference in the U.S. effort to fight climate change:

Most climate change policy attention has been addressed to long-term options, such as inducing new, low-carbon energy technologies and creating cap-and-trade regimes for emissions. We use a behavioral approach to examine the reasonably achievable potential for near-term reductions by altered adoption and use of available technologies in U.S. homes and nonbusiness travel. National implementation could save an estimated 123 million metric tons of carbon per year in year 10, which is 20% of household direct emissions or 7.4% of U.S. national emissions, with little or no reduction in household well-being. The potential of household action deserves increased policy attention. Future analyses of this potential should incorporate behavioral as well as economic and engineering elements.

I've got to read through this study in more detail when I have the time, but what's cool about it is that the researchers combined potential emissions reductions with likelihood that current non-adopters could actually be convinced to take each action (based on data on the most effective proven interventions).

Of the top 10 behaviors in terms of potential emissions reduction, only 4 were likely to be adopted by 50% or more households (getting a fuel efficient vehicle, weatherization, energy efficient appliances, efficient heating and air conditioning).

In the end, the top 5 actions in the category of "Reasonably Achievable Emissions Reductions" (RAER) were as follows:
1.  Fuel-efficient vehicles (self explanatory)
2.  Weatherization (a one-time investment in an energy-efficiency retrofit)
3.  Energy Efficient Appliances (self-explanatory)
4.  Efficient Home Heating and Cooling Systems (a one-time investment)
5.  Driving Behavior (driving less and more lightly)

The authors recommend a variety of strategies to encourage the above behaviors (as well as the remaining 12 examined).  According to the latest studies in environmental messaging, they say, weatherization and non-heating/cooling energy efficiency improvements are best encouraged via rating/labeling systems, financial incentives, and strong social marketing.

For encouraging maintenance activities (e.g. keeping appliances and vehicles well-tuned), adjustments (e.g., laundry and water heater temperature adjustments), and daily behavior changes (e.g., driving behavior, carpooling, and thermostat setbacks), the authors recommend communication strategies centered on mass media messages, household and behavior-specific information, and communication through individuals' social networks and communities.

Of course, each of the top 5 reasonably achievable actions will, in the end, be money savers.  Since 4 of the 5 require up-front investments that are often not affordable for the citizens who most need the money savings, the authors note that "policies that add a financial incentive for carbon emissions reduction are likely to increase behavioral plasticity" (the likelihood of behavior change).

I'll dig more into this fascinating study in the coming weeks...

Read the full article>>

Read AFP's coverage of the study>>

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