Six behaviors policymakers should prioritize to mitigate climate change

Rare's Center for Behavior & the Environment identifies the six behaviors with the greatest potential to reduce emissions in the United States.

May 17, 2022

The latest issue of Behavioral Science & Policy features a groundbreaking analysis by Rare’s Center for Behavior & the Environment identifying the six behaviors with the greatest potential to reduce emissions in the United States.

This special edition of the international peer-reviewed journal focuses on the critical role that behavioral science plays in addressing environmental challenges. Our research compares a range of behaviors that can affect the environment and prioritizes the ones that produce the highest emissions (see below). The analysis is published alongside other evidence-based research exploring a spectrum of behavioral interventions, insights, policies, and opportunities. Rare’s research has since formed the foundation for our Climate Culture program.


Table 1. Six priority behaviors to target

Behavior Illustrative policy Behavioral principle
Commute and travel
Purchase an electric vehicle. Provide discounts at the point of sale or that expire within a set time. Leverage hyperbolic discounting, a cognitive process that undervalues costs or savings in the future relative to those incurred today.
Reduce air travel. Require airlines to highlight the environmental consequences of air travel through labeling, such as by informing ticket buyers of the environmental effects of their flights. Increasing the salience of the effects of one’s decisions can prompt active consideration of a factor that might otherwise have been ignored.
Eat a plant-rich diet. Mandate adding emissions information to food labels. Information provision can influence behavior when it contradicts preconceived beliefs and is consistent with existing values.
Purchase carbon offsets. Require emitters to have customers explicitly choose whether to pay for carbon offsets. When people are required to make an active choice—to explicitly decide on something rather than absentmindedly continue with the status quo—they are more likely to shift from the status quo.
Waste reduction and management
Reduce food waste. Regulate dates on food labels, which are currently set by manufacturers and result in the unnecessary disposal of still-edible foods. Information provision can influence behavior when it allows people to more effectively express their already established preferences.
Residential energy use
Purchase green energy. Default utility customers to a green energy provider. People often go along with the default option presented to them rather than giving the choice active consideration.

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