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The salience of future impacts and the willingness to pay for climate change mitigation: an experiment in intergenerational framing

Abstract

Globally, investment in climate change mitigation has lagged far behind the optimal level as estimated by a large body of science. This lag may be caused, in part, by the psychological distance between decision-makers today and those who will likely experience the worst impacts of climate change in the future. This psychological distance reduces the salience of those impacts in today’s decisions. In a randomized control experiment using a letter-to-the-future treatment and a climate change essay treatment, I find that compared to a control group, both writing tasks that focus attention on the future risks of climate change increase the willingness to donate to climate change mitigation efforts. I also find evidence that for parents and grandparents, writing a letter to one’s child or grandchild increases the salience of existing concerns about how climate change may impact one’s children. These findings contribute to the understanding of how to bridge the psychological distance between choices and consequences for climate change mitigation and have implications for a wide range of decisions from personal health choices to retirement savings.

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Notes

  1. The temporal component of this experiment is explored in a separate paper.

  2. Video from TEDEd: http://ed.ted.com/lessons/climate-change-earth-s-giant-game-of-tetris-joss-fong

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Acknowledgements

I am grateful for the feedback and guidance from Todd Rogers, David Laibson, Joseph Aldy, Robert Stavins, Brigitte Madrian, Max Bazerman, Elke Weber, Lisa Zaval, Ezra Markowitz, Alison Wood Brooks, and Andrew Myers and the participants of the Harvard Environmental Economics Lunch Seminar.

Funding

This research was supported by grants from The Pershing Square Venture Fund for Research on the Foundations of Human Behavior and the Harvard Environmental Economics Program.

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Correspondence to Trisha R. Shrum.

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The author is a co-founder and advisor of DearTomorrow, a non-profit project that utilizes some of the methods in this study to engage the public in climate change discussions. She has engaged with this organization in a fully unpaid, volunteer capacity.

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Shrum, T.R. The salience of future impacts and the willingness to pay for climate change mitigation: an experiment in intergenerational framing. Climatic Change 165, 18 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-021-03002-6

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Keywords

  • Climate change mitigation
  • Salience
  • Intergenerational framing
  • Randomized control experiment
  • Psychological distance
  • Framing theory