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On strategic ignorance of environmental harm and social norms

Thunström, Linda; van 't Veld, Klaas; Shogren, Jason and Nordström, Jonas LU (2013) In Working Paper p.195-214
Abstract
Are people strategically ignorant of the negative externalities their activities cause the environment? Herein we examine if people avoid costless information on those externalities and use ignorance as an excuse to reduce pro-environmental behavior. We develop a theoretical framework in which people feel internal pressure (“guilt”) from causing harm to the environment (e.g., emitting carbon dioxide) as well as external pressure to conform to the social norm for pro-environmental behavior (e.g., offsetting carbon emissions). Our model predicts that people may benefit from avoiding information on their harm to the environment, and that they use ignorance as an excuse to engage in less pro-environmental behavior. It also predicts that the... (More)
Are people strategically ignorant of the negative externalities their activities cause the environment? Herein we examine if people avoid costless information on those externalities and use ignorance as an excuse to reduce pro-environmental behavior. We develop a theoretical framework in which people feel internal pressure (“guilt”) from causing harm to the environment (e.g., emitting carbon dioxide) as well as external pressure to conform to the social norm for pro-environmental behavior (e.g., offsetting carbon emissions). Our model predicts that people may benefit from avoiding information on their harm to the environment, and that they use ignorance as an excuse to engage in less pro-environmental behavior. It also predicts that the cost of ignorance increases if people can learn about the social norm from the information. We test the model predictions empirically using an experiment combined with a stated-preference survey involving a hypothetical long-distance flight and an option to buy offsets for the flight’s carbon footprint. More than half (53 percent) of the subjects choose to ignore information on the carbon footprint alone before deciding their offset purchase, but ignorance significantly decreases (to 29 percent) when the information additionally reveals the share of air travelers who buy carbon offsets. We find evidence that some people use ignorance as an excuse to reduce pro-environmental behavior—ignorance significantly decreases the probability of buying carbon offsets. (Less)
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author
organization
publishing date
type
Working Paper
publication status
published
subject
keywords
Experiment, environment, ignorance, social norms
categories
Higher Education
in
Working Paper
issue
2013:22
pages
195 - 214
publisher
Department of Economics, Lund Universtiy
language
English
LU publication?
yes
id
d76d6a1f-9fe3-435f-9993-d970898f1762 (old id 4154718)
date added to LUP
2013-11-15 15:09:52
date last changed
2016-09-30 15:21:25
@misc{d76d6a1f-9fe3-435f-9993-d970898f1762,
  abstract     = {Are people strategically ignorant of the negative externalities their activities cause the environment? Herein we examine if people avoid costless information on those externalities and use ignorance as an excuse to reduce pro-environmental behavior. We develop a theoretical framework in which people feel internal pressure (“guilt”) from causing harm to the environment (e.g., emitting carbon dioxide) as well as external pressure to conform to the social norm for pro-environmental behavior (e.g., offsetting carbon emissions). Our model predicts that people may benefit from avoiding information on their harm to the environment, and that they use ignorance as an excuse to engage in less pro-environmental behavior. It also predicts that the cost of ignorance increases if people can learn about the social norm from the information. We test the model predictions empirically using an experiment combined with a stated-preference survey involving a hypothetical long-distance flight and an option to buy offsets for the flight’s carbon footprint. More than half (53 percent) of the subjects choose to ignore information on the carbon footprint alone before deciding their offset purchase, but ignorance significantly decreases (to 29 percent) when the information additionally reveals the share of air travelers who buy carbon offsets. We find evidence that some people use ignorance as an excuse to reduce pro-environmental behavior—ignorance significantly decreases the probability of buying carbon offsets.},
  author       = {Thunström, Linda and van 't Veld, Klaas and Shogren, Jason and Nordström, Jonas},
  keyword      = {Experiment,environment,ignorance,social norms},
  language     = {eng},
  note         = {Working Paper},
  number       = {2013:22},
  pages        = {195--214},
  publisher    = {Department of Economics, Lund Universtiy},
  series       = {Working Paper},
  title        = {On strategic ignorance of environmental harm and social norms},
  year         = {2013},
}