PUBPOL 750.305: Topics: Psychology of Climate Change

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Fall 2017
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Climate change often feels like a problem that our brains have been hardwired to ignore. Climate change is abstract and complex, making it hard for non-scientists (including policy-makers) to understand. For most Americans, it is a problem that will harm people who are far away in time and geography. And the significant political polarization surrounding climate change has turned it into a form of identity politics. Yet like so many environmental problems?from habitat destruction to overconsumption of natural resources?climate change is the result of human behavior. If we want to solve or mitigate these problems, we must first understand what is driving these beliefs and behaviors.

Most policy to address environmental issues such as climate change has focused on legal or economic tools such as prohibiting certain forms of pollution or giving subsidies for renewable energy. In this discussion-based policy seminar, we will examine an alternative framework for motivating environmentally-friendly behavior: psychological and social incentives. We will explore factors affecting climate change beliefs and related behaviors, including reactions to and support for policies. The focus will be primarily on the US, and we will discuss policy programs and private interventions that have incorporated social psychological research to promote climate change mitigation as well as potential new applications of this research. Although this class will mainly cover climate change and other environmental issues, the psychological tools we will discuss are used in other domains as well, so will be useful to students interested in a range of policy topics.

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