Winter 2013

Reducing Carbon-Based Energy Consumption through Changes in Household Behavior

Thomas Dietz, Paul C. Stern, and Elke U. Weber

Actions by individuals and households to reduce carbon-based energy consumption have the potential to change the picture of U.S. energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions in the near term. To tap this potential, however, energy policies and programs need to replace outmoded assumptions about what drives human behavior; they must integrate insights from the behavioral and social sciences with those from engineering and economics. This integrated approach has thus far only occasionally been implemented. This essay summarizes knowledge from the social sciences and from highly successful energy programs to show what the potential is and how it can be achieved.

THOMAS DIETZ is Professor of Environmental Science and Policy, Sociology, and Animal Studies at Michigan State University, where he is also Assistant Vice President for Environmental Research. His publications include Human Footprints on the Global Environment: Threats to Sustainability (edited with Eugene A. Rosa, Andreas Diekmann, and Carlo C. Jaeger, 2010), Public Participation in Environmental Assessment and Decision Making (edited with Paul C. Stern, 2008), and New Tools for Environmental Protection: Education, Information, and Voluntary Measures (edited with Paul C. Stern, 2002).

PAUL C. STERN is a Senior Scholar with the Board on Environmental Change and Society at the National Research Council of the National Academies; he is also a Professor II at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. His publications include Public Participation in Environmental Assessment and Decision Making (edited with Thomas Dietz, 2008), Decision Making for the Environment: Social and Behavioral Science Research Priorities (edited with Garry D. Brewer, 2005), and Environmental Problems and Human Behavior (with Gerald T. Gardner; 2nd ed., 2002).

ELKE U. WEBER is the Jerome A. Chazen Professor of International Business at Columbia Business School and Professor of Psychology and Earth Institute Professor at Columbia University, where she is also Codirector of the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions. Her work has recently appeared in the journals Nature Climate ChangeNature NeuroscienceOrganizational Behavior and Human Decision ProcessesPsychological Science, and American Psychologist, among others. She coedited Conflict and Tradeoffs in Decision Making (with Jonathan Baron and Graham Loomes, 2001).

To read this essay or subscribe to Dædalus, visit the Dædalus access page
Access now