Different approaches are used to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions from households’ energy consumption, but with varying degrees of success. As argued in an overview in WIREs Climate Change, better integration of these approaches will be necessary to make substantive advances in this field. The overview identifies these approaches and explores how they may be used to decrease greenhouse gas emissions from other areas of peoples’ lives, such as food choices.
A common assumption is that technological innovations will save the day. While innovations such as efficient appliances can reduce emissions from energy use, there is evidence to suggest that people do not always use these appliances in the way they were intended. Economic approaches use price signals to help reduce emissions, but incentives (such as rebates) and penalties (such as taxes) are not always as effective as sometimes assumed – and can sometimes even backfire. Psychological approaches focus on individual attitudes, social norms, and behaviors; but often do not focus on the wider social context. Sociological approaches do focus on systemic factors and social practices, but this approach generally does not focus on household interventions to tackle specific energy behaviors.
These approaches can be made more effective by integrating across the technological, economic, social and psychological realms. For example, the use of social influence has been used with some success: telling people their neighbors are saving energy can result in energy savings. Social influence could be more fully integrated in attempts to encourage uptake of new technologies, such as solar panels, or be taken into account in economic modelling.
As researchers seek to understand how to reduce household greenhouse gas emissions, Abrahamse and Shwom advocate that this needs to also include households’ food consumption patterns. The average citizen may turn off their lights or use less air-conditioning to help solve climate change, but how can they be motivated to not eat that hamburger that causes more climate impacts?
Kindly contributed by Wokje Abrahamse.