Monday, September 29, 2008

Knowledge, Belief ..... Action?

We recently conducted a survey of 1,003 New Jersey adults with funds provided by PSEG on beliefs and knowledge of the causes of climate change and what relation (if any) these might have to energy consumption habits. Here are some highlights.

Belief in human caused climate change:

A majority of respondents (54%) believe global warming is a proven fact and mostly caused by human activity. 18% believe it is a proven fact but not caused by human activity. 21% believe it is not as yet a proven fact.

80% of respondents reported lowering the use of their heating and cooling systems in the last 2 years. Roughly 75% said they had installed compact fluorescent light bulbs. Roughly two-thirds each said they had bought energy-efficient appliances in the last two years and had programmable thermostats in their homes A third or a bit more each had installed more efficient heating or cooling systems, replaced windows, or added or replaced insulation. “Clean energy" options of buying "green electricity" or installing solar panels were taken by less than 10%.
However, the results demonstrated few statistically significant relationships between belief in human caused climate change and reporting having engaged in energy saving actions. Believers were more likely to say they bought energy-efficient appliances, reduced the duration of use of heating and air conditioning, and installed compact fluorescent light bulbs than others, but did not differ on seven other actions. Respondents considered “saving money” to be the most persuasive argument for saving energy when asked to rate a list of hypothetical arguments.

Other noteworthy findings:

Although respondents who believe in human caused climate change have more accurate knowledge than others about the true causes of global warming (i.e., cars, the use of coal and oil by utilities, home heating and cooling and tropical forest destruction), they also have more false beliefs – for example, rating both ozone depletion and nuclear power as major causes as well. Among all respondents, 69% list ozone depletion as a major cause and 37% list nuclear power generation.

Support of the need for both the Federal and NJ State government to take action to stem global warming finds strong support among those who believe global warming is human caused (86%), and more generally by a majority OF all respondents. A belief that climate change will have a serious impact on NJ found similar rates of support.

Discussion and implications of the findings:

Although this study reports high rates of energy saving actions by respondents, self-reports are prone to be inaccurate. Such findings need to be corroborated with measurements of actual usage data. That said, these results may throw into question how much “low hanging” fruit there is for energy saving programs to target.

Although support for government action is high, these results are apt to fall dramatically when the actions specified could have a direct impact on the respondent as opposed to (for example) business and industry. As NJ moves to implement regulations to reduce green house gases, it would be valuable to understand the contours of support for government action better.

The fact that belief in human caused climate change is correlated with accurate knowledge of its true causes, but not with accurate knowledge of false causes, underscores the fact that the relationship between belief and knowledge is not nearly as straightforward as one might wish. Believing in human caused climate change may make one more prone to thinking that the causes of it are more widespread than they actually are.

The fact belief in human caused climate change is not correlated with many energy saving actions should give pause to any planning for education programs. The goals of such education programs need to be examined. If promoting energy efficiency is a goal, other than price, alternatives to improved education about climate change causes and effective solutions also merit examination – including norm based approaches, marketing strategies and the provision of real time consumption information.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Geoengineering and Experimental Design

Writing in the New York Times (September 19, 2008) Thomas Homer-Dixon and David Keith argue for the importance of settling some of the uncertainty about geoengineering climate solutions by experimentation. They write: “Of course, flooding the atmosphere with man-made particles poses real risks. So to reduce the uncertainty surrounding geo-engineering, research should include real-world tests of various technologies that poke the climate system just a little. At first, tests might use existing research aircraft like NASA’s ER-2, a heavy version of the U-2, to release small payloads of particles and then measure the effects on solar radiation and the ozone layer. If these early tests showed the risks were low, enough material could then be released to have a detectable climate impact, while still keeping the amount substantially less than that needed to offset all human-driven global warming. For the second stage of tests, we might use high-altitude aircraft to deliver a larger quantity of particles at about 65,000 feet in the tropics, which would then be carried much higher and toward the poles by the natural overturning circulation in the stratosphere. The reduction in climate risk from even a small-scale sun-shading scheme could easily be larger than the increase in risk from the scheme’s possible side effects. And in any case the effort would cost only a tiny fraction of the expense of meaningful efforts to reduce man’s carbon emissions.”

So far so good. But before we start down this track it is worth asking just what information we might expect to get to settle the question of whether or not to intervene at a level of intensity and scale that could actually make a difference. The problem is two-fold. In the natural progression of scientific inquiry, mathematical modeling might be expected to be followed by limited experimentation which (if the results merit it) can then be implemented at scale. In the case of aerosols, ‘limited experimentation’ comes in two forms:
1. Geographically limited interventions.
2. Low concentration insertions.
But in both cases, we ought to ask if they are feasible and if so, what sort of information they might be capable of yielding. The first raises issues of safety - could such experimental interventions be contained? The second raises issues of scale – could the results of low concentration interventions be reliably projected for higher level concentrations? These are not killer objections, but they merit attention – if only because they may matter less for some kinds of interventions as compared to others.

Monday, September 15, 2008


ChinaDialogue reports: The government should accept binding targets on greenhouse-gas emissions, Hu Angang, a leading Chinese academic, has written. The suggestion represents a break with the Chinese negotiating position on climate change. Hu, a Tsinghua University economist and chinadialogue contributor, told Reuters: "China is a developing country, but it's a very special one, with the biggest population, high energy use and sooner or later, if not now, the biggest total greenhouse-gas emissions. So this is a common battlefront we must join." According to Hu's proposal, which was published in the Chinese-language Journal of Contemporary Asia-Pacific Studies, China's greenhouse-gas pollution could continue to rise until around 2020, before the country would "dramatically" curb emissions, cutting them
to half the 1990 level by 2030, and then half that by 2050. China should make such a commitment even if the United States refuses to join a global pact on climate change, Hu said. The article is likely to spark debate about China's position during the negotiations toward the new agreement on climate change after the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Good new from Russia

RIA Novosti reports:

Most Russians believe global warming is a reality, according to a poll conducted on June 14-15 by the Public Opinion foundation.

The poll said two thirds of respondents believe the climate has become warmer in recent years, while 86% of those polled "had heard about global warming occurring on the Earth." At the same time, 15% did not believe global warming was happening and 18% experienced difficulty in assessing whether the climate had changed at all.
Slightly more than half (51%) said that average temperatures in their region had risen, while 20% said that the local weather had remained unchanged, and 13% said the average temperatures had dropped over the past few years. Half of those who believe global warming is real think it has a negative impact on human life, with 5% believing it has a positive influence and 3% saying it had no effect. Half of those that believe global warming is real (or 33% of the total number) said it was completely down to human activity, while over 30% of the group (25% of the total number) said it was a result of a mixture of man-made and natural factors. And 8% said climate change was a natural phenomenon. The opinion pollster said 5% believe that global warming is natural, 3% blame the destruction of the ozone layer, 2% put it down to natural anomalies and 2% to solar influence. Less that 1% said climate change is God's punishment and evidence of the end of the world approaching. Over a third (36%) of respondents believe that global warming cannot be stopped. The poll was conducted in 100 towns and villages in 46 Russian regions, territories and republics with 1,500 respondents taking part. A first deputy emergencies minister said last week that by 2030 global warming and the melting of northern Russia permafrost could lead to a catastrophe destroying housing, infrastructure and forests. Speaking during a roundtable in the Federation Council, Russia's upper house of parliament, Ruslan Tsalikov said over a quarter of housing in north Russia could be destroyed along with local airports, underground storage facilities, including oil reservoirs, if Siberia's huge permafrost started to melt further. It would also threaten to release huge quantities of methane gas - Russia's permafrost is believed to hold 30% of the world's entire supplies.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Consumers in developing countries lead in climate awareness

Here is a report that merits attention:
Consumers in developing countries lead in climate awareness

In order to understand how the perception of global warming and climate change is affecting consumer behaviour, Havas Media has undertaken research to explore how, across a number of markets, this consumer perception of climate change is – and has the potential to – impact on business. Working in nine markets – US, UK, France, Spain, Brazil, Germany, China, India and Mexico – the research explores consumer perception at three levels – the phenomenon itself, with respect to key sectors and finally with respect to leading brands within those sectors.

One clear observation is that in countries with lower average income, awareness for climate change and its effects, as well as the willingness to act upon it, are far more greater then, for instance, in the USA and the UK. The number of so called eco-apathetics amounts to six times the numbers in Mexico or Brasil.

Some of the key messages, according to Havas:

1. Consumers are extremely engaged with the climate change issue – nearly 80% at a global level are what we call either Attentive or Absorbed. That’s a lot of people ready to listen and act.

2. And act they will. Our research shows that the two most likely actions undertaken
by consumers to combat the issue in the near future, are stopping buying environmentally damaging goods and buying more environmentally friendly goods.

3. Consumers are under no illusion that we can continue with ‘business as usual’. Within our Absorbed and Attentive groups, more than 3/4 recognise climate change will affect them and their families and that they will need to change the way they live in order to address the problem. More than 3/4 also believe they can actively contribute to solving the problem at a personal level. That’s a lot of people ready to do their bit.

4. This represents an incredible opportunity for brands to help consumers fulfil this aspirational role. And consumers are highly expectant. In 2/3 of the markets we researched, consumers felt large corporations had a responsibility to lead the charge in combating climate change.

5. When it comes to motivation to be a green consumer, we’ve identified Passive and Active Self-Seekers and Altruists. Understanding where their consumers sit within these groups, offers brands a vital insight into how best to open a dialogue with them on this issue.

6. It’s not just brands in traditionally damaging sectors that should be considering green communications. Through understanding the Ecolasticity™ of brand, we can see that potentially all brands can use green communications to their benefit. In fact, the hyper-Ecolastic™ brands may be where we least expect them to be.

7. When it comes to actually buying green, 80% of our respondents said they would buy more if more were on offer. 79% said they would rather buy from companies doing their best to reduce their impact on the environment. 89% people are likely to buy more green goods in the next 12 months and 35% are willing to pay a premium for those goods. Again, that is a significant group of people who are willing to accept a green premium.

8. In the last of our segmentation analyses, we have identified three types of consumer when it comes to buying green and paying a premium - Logicals, Accepting and Absolutes. Although driven by different motivations, more than 40% of Logicals and Absolutes are prepared to pay a premium for green goods. And Logicals and Absolutes make up more than 2/3 of our research.

9. Increasingly consumers are recognising the good guys and bad guys within
sectors. Which is great news for those brands that are pursuing and communicating
legitimate abatement strategies, as the sky becomes the limit. But it’s bad news for the slow or non-starters in the sector, as their ability to borrow credibility from their more proactive peers looks set to slip away.

10. All of the points above point unequivocally to the fact that a legitimate and well-executed green communication strategy represents a significant opportunity for arguably any brand looking to develop stronger and more meaningful relationships with its consumers.
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