Climate Change 2001:
Working Group III: Mitigation
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5.3.8 Social, Cultural, and Behavioural Norms and Aspirations

Perhaps the most significant barriers to GHG mitigation, and yet the greatest opportunities, are linked to social, cultural, and behavioural norms and aspirations. In particular, success in GHG mitigation may well depend on understanding the social, cultural, and psychological forces that shape consumption patterns. Experience from Energy Efficiency Programmes

Conventional policy development is based on a model of human motivation that has been widely criticized (Stern, 1986; Jacobs, 1997; Jaeger et al., 1998). People are assumed to be rational welfare-maximizers and to have fixed values, which, along with the information and means available to them, determine their behaviour. Practical analysis of energy efficiency and other GHG mitigation options often makes the narrower assumption that people are cost-minimizers (Komor and Wiggins, 1988). Such assumptions are undermined by experience with energy efficiency programmes. It has long been recognized that consumers do not necessarily act on their stated values (Maloney and Ward, 1973; Verhallen and van Raaij, 1981), and fail to take up measures that appear on paper to be economically worthwhile (Stern, 1986; Komor and Wiggins, 1988). Some of the reasons, such as energy price uncertainty and transaction costs, have been discussed elsewhere in this chapter and are consistent with the conventional view of consumers as “rational actors”. Another important influence on behaviour is the source and quality of information on mitigation measures (the experiences of friends and family are trusted more than the advice of industry, retail sales staff or government) (Anderson and Claxton, 1982; Stern, 1986; Komor and Wiggins, 1988). It is much harder for the “rational actor paradigm” to accommodate features of human behaviour such as the gap between attitudes and action, the tendency to adopt behavioural routines rather than to optimize continually the limited number of variables that individuals typically take into account in their choices, and the tendency for people to rationalize their choices after the fact.

The gap between current practice and the economic potential has been characterized in this chapter as being caused by “barriers”. However, Shove (1999) argues that the language of potentials, gaps, and barriers is itself an impediment to finding socially viable solutions for energy saving, and that new, more socially-sensitive approaches are needed to the analysis of measures, with researchers, industry actors, and policymakers working closely together. One of the greatest challenges for GHG mitigation strategies is that, for most people, neither energy saving nor GHG mitigation is a high priority (see for example, Gritsevich, 2000). Consumers’ decisions about energy use are often motivated less by cost-minimization than by improving comfort and convenience (Wilhite et al., 2000).

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