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Environmental Problems are Human Problems: insights from the behavioural sciences

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Paul Ferraro, the Humanitas Visiting Professor in Sustainability Studies 2015-16, will give an open lecture as part of a series of events he will be doing while in Cambridge on the theme of Effective Environmentalism. Professor Andrew Balmford (Zoology, Cambridge) will chair the event.

Environmental problems are largely human behavior problems. Yet environmental programs are typically designed by natural and physical scientists, engineers and lawyers, rather than behavioral scientists. Program designs thus end up being based on incomplete theories of human behavior. Take, for example, programs aimed at encouraging the adoption of resource-conserving technologies like energy- and water-efficient technologies: realistic behavioral theories include at least a dozen potential mechanisms that lead to deviations from the reductions in resource use predicted by engineers. Failure to understand the range of plausible behavioral mechanisms makes ineffective programs more likely. A growing body of empirical evidence demonstrates that insights from the behavioral sciences can be used to design better public programs. Most of this evidence comes from non-environmental contexts, but the early evidence in the environmental field is promising. Moreover, theory and methodological insights from the behavioral sciences are leading to advances in the evaluation of environmental programs, which is moving us in the direction of evidence-based environmental policy. Professor Ferraro will address the knowns and unknowns of applying insights from the behavioral sciences to improve sustainability.

This talk is part of the CRASSH series.

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