Environmentally Significant Consumption

Decisions about consumption at the individual, household, community, business, and national levels have a profound effect on GHG emissions. For example, voluntary consumer choices to increase the efficiency of household energy use could reduce total U.S. GHG emissions by over 7 percent if supportive policies were in place (Dietz et al., 2009b). Consumer choices also influence important aspects of vulnerability and adaptation; for example, increasing demand for meat in human diets places stresses on the global food system as well as on the environment (Fiala, 2008; Stehfest et al., 2009), and demand for beachfront homes increases vulnerability and shapes adaptation options related to sea level rise, storm surges, and other coastal impacts.

Considerable research on consumption decision making has been carried out in economics, psychology, sociology, anthropology, and geography (NRC, 1997a, 2005a), but much of this research has been conducted in isolation. For example, economic analyses often take preferences as given. Studies in psychology, sociology, and anthropology, on the other hand, focus on the social influences on preferences but often fail to account for economic processes. Decisions based on knowledge from multiple disciplines are thus much more likely to be effective than decisions that rely on the perspective of a single discipline, and advances in the understanding of climate and related environmental decision making are likely to require collaboration across multiple social science disciplines (NRC, 1997a, 2002b). This is an area of research where theories and methodologies are in place but progress has been slowed by a lack of support for experiments and large-scale data collection efforts that integrate across disciplines.

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