Scientists remove some of the guesswork about how individuals will use energy in 2050 by looking at past campaigns to induce personal change and their effectiveness
Roughly 44 percent of Californians smoked tobacco in 1965. By 2010, 9.3 percent did—a shift that might have seemed impossible before it happened. Understanding exactly how such a social transformation occurred in the past may prove key to understanding how individuals might alter their behavior to help combat climate change in the future.
By studying past instances of social transformation, scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) hope to predict future change in response to global warming as part of California’s Carbon Challenge—a study commissioned by theCalifornia Energy Commission to help the state cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent below 1990 levels. LBNL energy technology scientist Jeffery Greenblatt and his colleagues are analyzing technology options as well as data records from 10 historical behavior changes—smokingcessation, seat belt use, vegetarianism, drunk driving, recycling and yoga, among others.
For starters, Greenblatt is examining the full mix of technical advances in both the supply and demand of energy that could possibly help meet the target, including more efficient electric motors, better insulation, intelligent controls for energy, as well as fluorescent and LED lighting. But even all of these technological advances may not get California to its mid-century mandate alone.
Individual choices could close the gap, according to historical data. Because smoking cessation data and seat belt—use statistics have around for decades, scientists have a good grasp on so-called adoption rates, or how much behavior change is ultimately possible. Historical data also explains how long it takes for change to stick. For example, tobacco smoking has been in a steady decline since the 1960s with all sorts of factors driving this trend—improved science and epidemiology, education through labeling and advertising campaigns, and greater public awareness of risks—all of which could be applied to behaviors that contribute to climate change. “Watershed events and labeling can play important roles in transforming change. The 1964 Surgeon General report is an example [of a watershed event] and subsequent labeling for cigarettes was a big factor,” says energy researcher Max Wei of LBNL, adding that he imagines far more carbon or environmental labeling to inform the public.