Findings Banner

Friday, December 21, 2012

State of nature


The Moral Roots of Environmental Attitudes

Matthew Feinberg & Robb Willer
Psychological Science, forthcoming

Americans' attitudes about the environment are highly polarized, but it is unclear why this is the case. We conducted five studies to examine this issue. Studies 1a and 1b demonstrated that liberals, but not conservatives, view the environment in moral terms and that this tendency partially explains the relation between political ideology and environmental attitudes. Content analyses of newspaper op-eds (Study 2a) and public-service announcements (Study 2b) found that contemporary environmental discourse is based largely on moral concerns related to harm and care, which are more deeply held by liberals than by conservatives. However, we found that reframing proenvironmental rhetoric in terms of purity, a moral value resonating primarily among conservatives, largely eliminated the difference between liberals' and conservatives' environmental attitudes (Study 3). These results establish the importance of moralization as a cause of polarization on environmental attitudes and suggest that reframing environmental discourse in different moral terms can reduce the gap between liberals and conservatives in environmental concern.


Recycling gone bad: When the option to recycle increases resource consumption

Jesse Catlin & Yitong Wang
Journal of Consumer Psychology, January 2013, Pages 122-127

In this study, we propose that the ability to recycle may lead to increased resource usage compared to when a recycling option is not available. Supporting this hypothesis, our first experiment shows that consumers used more paper while evaluating a pair of scissors when the option to recycle was provided (vs. not provided). In a follow-up field experiment, we find that the per person restroom paper hand towel usage increased after the introduction of a recycling bin compared to when a recycling option was not available. We conclude by discussing implications for research and policy.


A Polarized Environment: The Effect of Partisanship and Ideological Values on Individual Recycling and Conservation Behavior

Daniel Coffey & Patricia Hallam Joseph
American Behavioral Scientist, January 2013, Pages 116-139

Political polarization is often analyzed at the mass level through examination of attitudinal differences, but little attention is devoted to how polarization might be manifested through differences in individual behavior, especially in areas that do not appear to be explicitly political in nature. Political polarization, however, may extend to differences in lifestyles among individuals, especially differences in prosocial environmental behavior. This could be especially true for behaviors that are perceived as markers of political attitudes. In an examination of self-reported recycling and conservation behavior, we find that controlling for a range of alternative explanations for why individuals engage in pro-environmental behavior, partisan and ideological dispositions are among the most robust causes of such behavior. We demonstrate that these behavioral differences are exacerbated by attention to political news. The findings indicate that the effects of polarization extend beyond political attitudes into social and economic choices.


Paying for Pollution? How General Equilibrium Effects Undermine the "Spare the Air" Program

Steven Sexton
Environmental and Resource Economics, forthcoming

Policy-makers have relied on non-coercive mechanisms to achieve socially preferred outcomes in a variety of contexts when prices fail to ration scarce resources. Amid heightened concern about environmental damage and climate change, public appeals for cooperation and pecuniary incentives are frequently used to achieve resource conservation and other prosocial behavior. Yet the relative effectiveness of these two instruments is poorly understood when pecuniary incentives are small. This paper examines the extent to which free transit fares and appeals for car trip avoidance reduce car pollution on smoggy days. Using data on freeway traffic volumes and transit ridership, public appeals for cooperation are shown to have no significant effect on car trip demand. Free transit fares, however, do have a significant effect on car trip demand. But the effect is perverse in that it generates an increase in car trips and related pollution. Free fares also increase transit ridership. These results suggest that free transit rides do not induce motorists to substitute to transit, but instead subsidize regular transit rides and additional trips. Appeals for cooperation have no affect on carpooling behavior.


Traffic-Related Air Pollution, Particulate Matter, and Autism

Heather Volk et al.
Archives of General Psychiatry, forthcoming

Context: Autism is a heterogeneous disorder with genetic and environmental factors likely contributing to its origins. Examination of hazardous pollutants has suggested the importance of air toxics in the etiology of autism, yet little research has examined its association with local levels of air pollution using residence-specific exposure assignments.

Objective: To examine the relationship between traffic-related air pollution, air quality, and autism.

Design: This population-based case-control study includes data obtained from children with autism and control children with typical development who were enrolled in the Childhood Autism Risks from Genetics and the Environment study in California. The mother's address from the birth certificate and addresses reported from a residential history questionnaire were used to estimate exposure for each trimester of pregnancy and first year of life. Traffic-related air pollution was assigned to each location using a line-source air-quality dispersion model. Regional air pollutant measures were based on the Environmental Protection Agency's Air Quality System data. Logistic regression models compared estimated and measured pollutant levels for children with autism and for control children with typical development.

Setting: Case-control study from California.

Participants: A total of 279 children with autism and a total of 245 control children with typical development.

Main Outcome Measures: Crude and multivariable adjusted odds ratios (AORs) for autism.

Results: Children with autism were more likely to live at residences that had the highest quartile of exposure to traffic-related air pollution, during gestation (AOR, 1.98 [95% CI, 1.20-3.31]) and during the first year of life (AOR, 3.10 [95% CI, 1.76-5.57]), compared with control children. Regional exposure measures of nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter less than 2.5 and 10 μm in diameter (PM2.5 and PM10) were also associated with autism during gestation (exposure to nitrogen dioxide: AOR, 1.81 [95% CI, 1.37-3.09]; exposure to PM2.5: AOR, 2.08 [95% CI, 1.93-2.25]; exposure to PM10: AOR, 2.17 [95% CI, 1.49-3.16) and during the first year of life (exposure to nitrogen dioxide: AOR, 2.06 [95% CI, 1.37-3.09]; exposure to PM2.5: AOR, 2.12 [95% CI, 1.45-3.10]; exposure to PM10: AOR, 2.14 [95% CI, 1.46-3.12]). All regional pollutant estimates were scaled to twice the standard deviation of the distribution for all pregnancy estimates.

Conclusions: Exposure to traffic-related air pollution, nitrogen dioxide, PM2.5, and PM10 during pregnancy and during the first year of life was associated with autism. Further epidemiological and toxicological examinations of likely biological pathways will help determine whether these associations are causal.


Cohort Change, Diffusion, and Support for Environmental Spending in the United States

Fred Pampel & Lori Hunter
American Journal of Sociology, September 2012, Pages 420-448

Long-standing debates over the effect of socioeconomic status (SES) on environmental concern contrast postmaterialist and affluence arguments, suggesting a positive relationship in high-income nations, with counterarguments for a negative or near zero relationship. A diffusion-of-innovations approach adapts parts of both arguments and predicts initial adoption of proenvironmental views by high-SES groups; however, environmentalism diffuses over time to other SES groups, weakening the association. This argument is tested with General Social Survey data (1973-2008) across 83 cohorts, whose attitudes before, during, and after the emergence of environmentalism identify long-term changes in environmental concern. Multilevel age, period, and cohort models support diffusion arguments by demonstrating that the effects across cohorts of education, income, and occupational prestige first strengthen, then weaken. This finding suggests that diffusion of environmental concern first produces positive relationships consistent with postmaterialism arguments and later produces null or negative relationships consistent with global environmentalism arguments.


Security, independence, and sustainability: Imprecise language and the manipulation of energy policy in the United States

Scott Littlefield
Energy Policy, January 2013, Pages 779-788

This article examines the impact of imprecise terminology on the energy policymaking process in US, focusing on the manipulation of discourse by different political-economic interests seeking to sway popular opinion. Using the 2012 US Presidential Elections as a backdrop, the analysis highlights the cooption of the concepts "security," "independence," and "sustainability" in energy debates by different and often opposing interest groups. The article's first section traces the malleability of energy terminology to the vagueness of the term "energy" itself and notes how qualifying words like security, independence, and sustainability have been selectively exploited to introduce further ambiguity to an already fungible concept. The second section notes that while energy is a critical and complex factor of macroeconomic production, its main public visibility comes via a few partially representative numbers, like gasoline prices. This mismatch of broad social importance and piecemeal public understanding enables organized interests to leverage vague terminology in support of particular policy ideas. The third section examines three policymaking tools (1) taxation, (2) regulation, and (3) technology promotion and compares these administrative instruments. Ultimately, the article concludes that loosely defined terminology inhibits energy policy discussion and stifles meaningful public debate over and action on energy issues.


Effect of Air Pollution Control on Life Expectancy in the United States: An Analysis of 545 U.S. Counties for the Period from 2000 to 2007

Andrew Correia et al.
Epidemiology, January 2013, Pages 23-31

Background: In recent years (2000-2007), ambient levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) have continued to decline as a result of interventions, but the decline has been at a slower rate than previous years (1980-2000). Whether these more recent and slower declines of PM2.5 levels continue to improve life expectancy and whether they benefit all populations equally is unknown.

Methods: We assembled a data set for 545 U.S. counties consisting of yearly county-specific average PM2.5, yearly county-specific life expectancy, and several potentially confounding variables measuring socioeconomic status, smoking prevalence, and demographic characteristics for the years 2000 and 2007. We used regression models to estimate the association between reductions in PM2.5 and changes in life expectancy for the period from 2000 to 2007.

Results: A decrease of 10 [mu]g/m3 in the concentration of PM2.5 was associated with an increase in mean life expectancy of 0.35 years (SD = 0.16 years, P = 0.033). This association was stronger in more urban and densely populated counties.

Conclusions: Reductions in PM2.5 were associated with improvements in life expectancy for the period from 2000 to 2007. Air pollution control in the last decade has continued to have a positive impact on public health.


Fuel Economy and Safety: The Influence of Vehicle Class and Driver Behavior

Mark Jacobsen
American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, forthcoming

Fuel economy standards change the composition of the vehicle fleet, influencing accident safety. The direction and size of the effect depend on interactions in the fleet. The model introduced here captures these interactions simultaneously with novel estimates of unobserved driving safety behavior and selection. I apply the model to the present structure of U.S. fuel economy standards, accounting for shifts in the composition of vehicle ownership, and estimate an adverse safety effect of 33 cents per gallon of gasoline saved. I show how two alternative regulatory provisions fully offset this effect, producing a near-zero change in accident fatalities.


Gasoline Prices, Fuel Economy, and the Energy Paradox

Hunt Allcott & Nathan Wozny
NBER Working Paper, November 2012

It is often asserted that consumers undervalue future gasoline costs relative to purchase prices when they choose between automobiles, or equivalently that they have high "implied discount rates" for these future energy costs. We show how this can be tested by measuring whether relative prices of vehicles with different fuel economy ratings fully adjust to time series variation in gasoline price forecasts. We then test the model using a detailed dataset based on 86 million transactions at auto dealerships and wholesale auctions between 1999 and 2008. Over our base sample, vehicle prices move as if consumers are indifferent between one dollar in discounted future gas costs and only 76 cents in vehicle purchase price. We document how endogenous market shares and utilization, measurement error, and different gasoline price forecasts can affect the results, and we show how to address these issues empirically. We also provide unique empirical evidence of sticky information: vehicle markets respond to changes in gasoline prices with up to a six month delay.


The Effect of Gasoline Prices on Household Location

Raven Molloy & Hui Shan
Review of Economics and Statistics, forthcoming

By raising commuting costs, an increase in gasoline prices should reduce the demand for housing in areas far from employment centers relative to locations closer to jobs. Using annual panel data on a large number of ZIP codes and municipalities from 1981 to 2008, we find that a 10 percent increase in gas prices leads to a 10 percent decrease in construction in locations with a long average commute relative to other locations, but to no significant change in house prices. Thus, the supply response prevents the change in housing demand from capitalizing in house prices.


Association Between World Trade Center Exposure and Excess Cancer Risk

Jiehui Li et al.
Journal of the American Medical Association, 19 December 2012, Pages 2479-2488

Context: The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, resulted in the release of known and suspected carcinogens into the environment. There is public concern that exposures may have resulted in increased cancers.

Objective: To evaluate cancer incidence among persons enrolled in the World Trade Center Health Registry.

Design, Setting, and Participants: Observational study of 55 778 New York State residents enrolled in the World Trade Center Health Registry in 2003-2004, including rescue/recovery workers (n = 21 850) and those not involved in rescue/recovery (n = 33 928), who were followed up from enrollment through December 31, 2008. Within-cohort comparisons using Cox proportional hazards models assessed the relationship between intensity of World Trade Center exposure and selected cancers.

Main Outcome Measures: Cases were identified through linkage with 11 state cancer registries. Standardized incidence ratios (SIRs) adjusted for age, race/ethnicity, and sex were computed with 2003-2008 New York State rates as the reference, focusing on cancers diagnosed in 2007-2008 as being most likely to be related to exposure during September 11 and its aftermath. The total and site-specific incidence rate differences (RDs) per 100 000 person-years between the study population and the New York State population in 2007-2008 also were calculated.

Results: There were 1187 incident cancers diagnosed, with an accumulated 253 269 person-years (439 cancers among rescue/recovery workers and 748 among those not involved in rescue/recovery). The SIR for all cancer sites combined in 2007-2008 was not significantly elevated (SIR, 1.14 [95% CI, 0.99 to 1.30]; RD, 67 [95% CI, -6 to 126] per 100 000 person-years among rescue/recovery workers vs SIR, 0.92 [95% CI, 0.83 to 1.03]; RD, -45 [95% CI, -106 to 15] per 100 000 person-years among those not involved in rescue/recovery). Among rescue/recovery workers, the SIRs had significantly increased by 2007-2008 for 3 cancer sites and were 1.43 (95% CI, 1.11 to 1.82) for prostate cancer (n = 67; RD, 61 [95% CI, 20 to 91] per 100 000 person-years), 2.02 (95% CI, 1.07 to 3.45) for thyroid cancer (n = 13; RD, 16 [95% CI, 2 to 23] per 100 000 person-years), and 2.85 (95% CI, 1.15 to 5.88) for multiple myeloma (n = 7; RD, 11 [95% CI, 2 to 14] per 100 000 person-years). No increased incidence was observed in 2007-2008 among those not involved in rescue/recovery. Using within-cohort comparisons, the intensity of World Trade Center exposure was not significantly associated with cancer of the lung, prostate, thyroid, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, or hematological cancer in either group.

Conclusions: Among persons enrolled in the World Trade Center Health Registry, there was an excess risk for prostate cancer, thyroid cancer, and myeloma in 2007-2008 compared with that for New York State residents; however, these findings were based on a small number of events and multiple comparisons. No significant associations were observed with intensity of World Trade Center exposures. Longer follow-up for typically long-latency cancers and attention to specific cancer sites are needed.


Shale gas vs. coal: Policy implications from environmental impact comparisons of shale gas, conventional gas, and coal on air, water, and land in the United States

Steffen Jenner & Alberto Lamadrid
Energy Policy, February 2013, Pages 442-453

The aim of this paper is to examine the major environmental impacts of shale gas, conventional gas and coal on air, water, and land in the United States. These factors decisively affect the quality of life (public health and safety) as well as local and global environmental protection. Comparing various lifecycle assessments, this paper will suggest that a shift from coal to shale gas would benefit public health, the safety of workers, local environmental protection, water consumption, and the land surface. Most likely, shale gas also comes with a smaller GHG footprint than coal. However, shale gas extraction can affect water safety. This paper also discusses related aspects that exemplify how shale gas can be more beneficial in the short and long term. First, there are technical solutions readily available to fix the most crucial problems of shale gas extraction, such as methane leakages and other geo-hazards. Second, shale gas is best equipped to smoothen the transition to an age of renewable energy. Finally, this paper will recommend hybrid policy regulations.


The Short-Run and Long-Run Effects of Behavioral Interventions: Experimental Evidence from Energy Conservation

Hunt Allcott & Todd Rogers
NBER Working Paper, October 2012

Interventions to affect repeated behaviors, such as smoking, exercise, or workplace effort, can often have large short-run impacts but uncertain or disappointing long-run effects. We study one part of a large program designed to induce energy conservation, in which home energy reports containing personalized feedback, social comparisons, and energy conservation information are being repeatedly mailed to more than five million households across the United States. We show that treatment group households reduce electricity use within days of receiving each of their initial few reports, but these immediate responses decay rapidly in the months between reports. As more reports are delivered, the average treatment effect grows but the high-frequency pattern of action and backsliding attenuates. When a randomly-selected group of households has reports discontinued after two years, the effects are much more persistent than they had been between the initial reports, implying that households have formed a new "capital stock" of physical capital or consumption habits. We show how assumptions about long-run persistence can be important enough to change program adoption decisions, and we illustrate how program design that accounts for the capital stock formation process can significantly improve cost effectiveness.


Corporate Social Responsibility and Shareholder Reaction: The Environmental Awareness of Investors

Caroline Flammer
Academy of Management Journal, forthcoming

This study examines whether shareholders are sensitive to corporations' environmental footprint. Specifically, we conduct an event study around the announcement of corporate news related to environment for all U.S. publicly-traded companies from 1980 to 2009. Consistent with the view that environmental corporate social responsibility (CSR) generates new and competitive resources for firms, we find that companies reported to behave responsibly towards the environment experience a significant stock price increase, whereas firms that behave irresponsibly face a significant decrease. Extending this view of "environment-as-a-resource," we posit that the value of environmental CSR depends on external and internal moderators. First, we argue that external pressure to behave responsibly towards the environment -- which has increased dramatically over the past decades -- exacerbates the punishment for eco-harmful behavior and reduces the reward for eco-friendly initiatives. This argument is supported by the data: over time, the negative stock market reaction to eco-harmful behavior has increased, while the positive reaction to eco-friendly initiatives has decreased. Second, we argue that environmental CSR is a resource with decreasing marginal returns and insurance-like features. Consistent with this view, we find that the positive (negative) stock market reaction to eco-friendly (-harmful) events is smaller for companies with higher levels of environmental CSR.


Public Procurement and the Private Supply of Green Buildings

Timothy Simcoe & Michael Toffel
Harvard Working Paper, September 2012

We measure the impact of municipal policies requiring governments to construct green buildings on private-sector adoption of the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standard. Using matching methods, panel data, and instrumental variables, we find that government procurement rules produce spillover effects that stimulate both private-sector adoption of the LEED standard and supplier investments in green building expertise. Our findings suggest that government procurement policies can accelerate the diffusion of new environmental standards that require coordinated complementary investments by various types of private adopters.


Effect of reflective pavements on building energy use

Neda Yaghoobian & Jan Kleissl
Urban Climate, December 2012, Pages 25-42

Optimization of building energy use in an urban area requires understanding of the complex interaction between urban morphology, materials, and climate, which can have unanticipated effects on urban microclimates and building energy use. Reflective pavements reduce urban air temperatures and have been proposed as a mitigation measure for urban heat islands. However, the increased solar reflectivity also transports more solar radiation into (through windows) and onto adjacent buildings possibly increasing building energy use. The effect of albedo changes in the urban canopy floor surface on building thermal loads is investigated using the Temperature of Urban Facets Indoor-Outdoor Building Energy Simulator (TUF-IOBES). A case study for a four storey office building with 1820 m2 floor area and 47% window to wall ratio in Phoenix, Arizona was conducted. Increasing pavement solar reflectivity from 0.1 to 0.5 increased annual cooling loads up to 11% (33.1 kWh m-2). The impacts on annual heating loads and canopy air temperatures were small. The confounding impacts of canopy aspect ratio, building insulation conditions reflective of building age, and window type and size were also quantified. Policymakers should carefully weigh the benefits and local energy use implications of reflective pavements for each site to ensure their optimal application.


The return on investment of the clean coal technology program in the USA

Roger Bezdek & Robert Wendling
Energy Policy, forthcoming

We analyze the return on investment of the U.S. federal government's clean coal technology (CCT) program for the period 2000-2020. We estimate total costs to government and industry and quantify benefits for: (1) Reduced capital costs of advanced technologies in new plants; (2) Reduced capital and operating costs at existing plants to remain compliant with environmental regulations; (3) Reduced fuel costs due to higher efficiencies; (4) Avoided environmental costs; (5) The value of clean coal technology export sales; (6) Jobs created. We find that benefits over the 20-year period total $111 billion (2008 dollars); the benefits in individual categories range from $15 billion in fuel cost savings to $39 billion for capital and technology cost savings in new and existing plants; and that total jobs created exceed 1.2 million, with an annual average of about 60,000 jobs created. We also find that the return on investment to DOE from the CCT program is favorable and is growing rapidly: By 2020, the cumulative DOE costs will likely total $8.5 billion, for an ROI of more than 13.


Community Forestry, Common Property, and Deforestation in Eight Mexican States

James Barsimantov & Jake Kendall
Journal of Environment Development, December 2012, Pages 414-437

Community management of forests for timber extraction has been widely implemented in Mexico. In this article, we investigate the relationship between property rights, community forestry, and deforestation over time. We conduct an econometric analysis of land use change at the municipality level in eight Mexican states that incorporates several variables commonly used in deforestation models plus variables on common property and community forestry. Our results show that both key explanatory variables, common property and community forestry, are related to lower deforestation. Coniferous forests, which have more marketable timber, show a stronger association, indicating that common property management may work by increasing the market value of the standing forest, thus building local consensus for timber management by distributing returns. The measured effects of common property and community forestry on deforestation rates are both statistically significant and large enough to confirm community forestry's usefulness as an environmental policy tool.

By KEVIN LEWIS | 09:00:00 AM