Date of Award

8-2011

Embargo Period

1-31-2013

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Engineering and Public Policy

Advisor(s)

Cleotilde Gonzalez

Abstract

A 2007 U.N. survey found that 54% of Americans advocate ―wait-and-see‖ behavior on policies that mitigate climate change, i.e., they infer that climate mitigation actions can be deferred until there are clear signs of danger. By evaluating different cognitive factors that influence human behavior, this thesis builds a framework that provides answers to an important question: why do people advocate wait-and-see behavior on climate change? One cognitive factor is misperceptions of feedback (i.e., ignorance of large feedback delays between CO2 emission decisions and the corresponding changes in CO2 concentration). Results reveal that the use of simulation tools, that provide repeated feedback about decision actions and corresponding consequences, is likely to enable people to overcome these misperceptions. A second factor is people‘s reliance on correlational or linear thinking (that the shape of CO2 emissions and CO2 concentration should look alike). Results reveal that the use of a physical representation (i.e., a picture of a problem in the form of a metaphor), simulation tools, and presenting problems such people‘s reliance on heuristics and biases enables them to make ecofriendly decisions is likely to enable people to overcome their correlational thinking. Other cognitive factors that affect people‘s wait-and-see behavior include people‘s risk and time preferences about future climate consequences when these consequences are either described or experienced. Results reveal that descriptive methods (e.g., books, newspapers, and reports) are likely to produce more wait-and-see behavior due to a high probability, small cost, and late timing of future consequences; whereas, experiential methods (e.g., movies, imagery, and games) are likely to produce more wait-and-see behavior due to a low probability, large cost, and early timing of future consequences. Policy implications suggest a careful design of descriptive and experiential climate risk communication methods, and the use of above described manipulations to improve people‘s decision making on climate change.

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