In an experiment, we asked people, who live in the U.S. state of Vermont, to what extent they care about other communities/people (self-transcendent values), or their own status and power (self-enhancing values). Prior research suggests that people with self-transcendent values tend to be more concerned about environmental issues and act on them compared with their self-enhancing peers. After assessing value orientations, our study participants received information about climate change. One group  received information on local climate impacts (in the Vermont region), while another group received information on global climate impacts (focusing on other regions in the world – i.e., not in Vermont). A control group received no climate information. Following this stage, we asked participants how important they thought climate change was, the extent to which they were willing to make changes in their lives to reduce their personal contribution to climate change (e.g., driving less), and their support for climate policy measures. As we expected, regardless of the kind of information (global or local), participants who held a strong, versus weak, self-transcendent values were more concerned about climate change, more willing to engage in pro-environmental behaviour (such as switching to public transportation), and more supportive of climate policy. However, the focus of the climate information – local or global – greatly mattered for individuals with strong self-enhancing values. For these individuals, hearing about likely local impacts of climate change was demotivating. Instead of spurring action, hearing the local projections about increased flooding and other likely local outcomes made self-enhancing people care less than their similar self-transcendent value oriented peers who read about global outcomes.
I am very sorry, but I am deeply pessimistic. I really see no path to success on climate change.
Seeing how it performs, both now and in United States history, I am increasingly skeptical the United States Constitution and its 50 mirrors around the country are capable of solving a problem on this spatial and temporal scale. I don’t believe that simply fixing the Citizens United fiasco will do it. And I also believe that, for similar reasons, the This Changes Everything thesis of Naomi Klein would also fail if realized.
Maybe there’s a simpler explanation than Professor Kahneman’s explanation … or maybe his is the same as this. My brother says “Some people are just selfish.”
However the evidence is to be interpreted, this is yet another reason why I am enthusiastic about initiatives which cause the individual and their family to gain, such as the solar and wind energy disruption I have written and extolled several times about here. Basically these are the things Professor Tony Seba writes and speaks about.
I think many environmentalists and environmental progressives have a long way to come to catch up with this. I think many feel the core problem is corporations not people. And, yet, I see, for instance, no overt corporate control in the sheer love and frenzy associated with buying gifts over the Christmas holidays. That’s more like an addiction. But people want things and, in doing so, they produce waste, including greenhouse gases.
So, what to do?
First, and fortunately, energy will go in the right direction, at least for consumers. It will be predominantly electric wind and solar generated, and there will be electric cars and trucks. Some manufacturers have already seen where this is going. Other sectors and more will eventually follow, after solar and wind energy scales. These grow at least 40% every two years. That’s exponential growth. Unfortunately, as I’ve noted many times before, this means people tied by job and unrelenting loyalty to fossil fuel energy and companies will get hurt, either by exponentially increasing rates or by loss of their livelihoods. The former might be alleviated for a time by states and governments spreading the costs over the taxpayer base. Eventually it will be seen as too expensive and an antiquated idea.
Second, for those purchasing decisions, consumers need to see the price of climate and greenhouse gases in the things they buy, so only an aggressive and steep Carbon Tax will send that signal. (More here.) Sorry, I don’t think cap ‘n’ trade mechanisms work in the long run. I don’t mind them or even mind using them in the short term and in the absence of something better, but ….