Frontier III: From Individual Actions to Global Impacts

In moving towards INDCs, CoP21 represents a shift from historically ‘top- down’ approaches to mitigating climate change, to an increased focus on participation from nations and regions to sub-national government entities (e.g., cities, counties, provinces), non-governmental assemblages (e.g., social groups, companies/firms) and continuing to the level of families and individuals. Undoubtedly, global climate change efforts will be aided significantly by a society of engaged individuals and groups, armed with credible information and making informed choices. Such a vision—at its core—hinges on strategies to cohesively link individual actions with global climate impacts. These linkages may be between individuals or mediated by the wide array of groupings just mentioned.

We are only now beginning to understand the interlinkages of data and information, informed choice, social networks, formal institutions, and the dynamics of the political economy of change, particularly those related to clean energy and sustainability. What is the appropriate role of institutions to help create informed climate citizens? And, what are the efficacies of various strategies to do so? In what ways should successful initiatives at a local level be extended to other localities or otherwise expanded?

Economists have long argued that a carbon tax represents one means to strengthen perceptions of the climate implications of an individual’s choices. It is a relatively clear and comparable signal that could operate via existing pricing systems in nearly all countries in the world. The impacts of prices on behaviour should not be lightly dismissed. At the same time, a carbon tax, particularly a global one, is perhaps more likely to be a product of the tipping point that marks stage 3 mitigation than a catalyst to achieving that tipping point. The relatively recent ubiquity of communication technologies, social networks, and information that increasingly tie together individuals and their associated groupings, both large and small, provides a potentially effective means for converting ‘bottom-up’ initiative into coherent action.

Understanding the transition pathways, choices and risks along those pathways, and the dynamics of decision-making in this increasingly heterogeneous world of energy choices raises a complex, intriguing portfolio of research areas. These areas span from understanding and informing decisions and the solutions offered from the scale of each human being, to the complex dynamics of social groups, companies, and firms, to sociopolitical constructs such as cities and counties, states, countries, and regions.

 
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