Perception of Climate Change Solutions

Image source: Pixabay

Project Drawdown is a non-profit organization that recently published a book titled ‘Drawdown’ (2017) which features a detailed list of solutions to the problem of global warming. They define drawdown as:

 ‘the point in the future when levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere stop climbing and start to steadily decline, thereby stopping catastrophic climate change—as quickly, safely, and equitably as possible.’ 

The Project Drawdown list places emphasis on solutions that would be practically feasible today, with existing technology, rather than focusing on solutions that are theoretical or may only be viable in years to come. While their list and justifications are compelling, we were curious how recognizable some of these solutions were by name only – whether the public could determine how effective each solution was at improving the climate change situation. 

Our Survey

In order to gauge the public’s intuitive understanding of many of the solutions that Project Drawdown listed as most effective at combating climate change, we built a survey that asked people to rate how effective they believed that each solution was at reducing atmospheric CO2.

 

Fig. 1: Asking participants to rate the effectiveness of solutions

The participants were presented with the Drawdown solutions and asked to rate them on the scale shown above (Fig. 1) which ran from 0 to 100, with descriptive levels above the scale for points of reference. 

Results

Our survey was shared through the danariely.com blog, and was completed by 1,890 participants. The participants had an average age of about 50 years old and we observed roughly equal breakdowns for both gender and political party affiliation.

After collecting survey responses, we took the average rating of each response and ranked them in order of descending effectiveness. With these ratings in-hand, we compared our study ranking to the Project Drawdown ranking by looking at the difference between them.

Fig. 2: Overrated and Underrated Project Drawdown Solutions

The solutions that were overrated by study participants appear in the left side of the vertical line through zero in figure 2, while the underrated solutions appear on the right. Those solutions at the top are the most effective drawdown solutions, while those at the bottom are less effective. 

Immediately, we are able to see that ‘Refrigeration’, the most impactful change according to Project Drawdown – is wildly underrated, people had it on average over 50 positions lower than its actual rank. 

Another immediately apparent result is that a large number of the solutions in the bottom left of the chart are focused on energy use and management. 

Fig. 3: Rank differences by Project Drawdown Solution sector

There are a number of sectors which contain a roughly equal amount of overrated and underrated solutions. ‘Buildings and Cities’ and ‘Materials’ saw more of the highly impactful solutions be underrated, while the lower impact solutions were overrated. ‘Land Use’ has a roughly equal distribution and ‘Energy’ appears to be very tightly clustered aside from a few low ranking solutions that were very overrated by participants. The sectors that we observed as either being mostly overrated or underrated were ‘Food’ (consistently underrated) and ‘Transport’ significantly overrated, with ‘Women and Girls’ being moderately underrated as well. 

These mostly uniform over-or-underrated sectors might be somewhat understandable when you consider how the issue of climate change is discussed in popular culture. While there is an increasing focus on how our diets can shape the future of the planet, ‘high tech’ solutions like electronic vehicles appear to get a larger share of attention.

Future Work

Given Project Drawdown has adjusted their list of solutions by specifying ‘Scenario 1’ and ‘Scenario 2’ conditions, wherein the temperature rises by 2 and 1.5 degrees respectively by the year 2100, we would like to revisit the public’s perception of solutions within these frameworks. In addition, a possible avenue of further exploration would be to use the ‘Sector’ groupings for solutions to dig deeper into the trends we observed in figure 3. Ultimately, what may be most interesting and useful is an exploration of how actionable people perceive each solution, or each sector of solution to be. Though there are many solutions to climate change that remain outside of the reach of an average person, a number of the highest impact solutions can be implemented or encouraged by individuals.