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The University of Southampton
Geography and Environmental Science

“I’ll take the easiest option please”: Carbon reduction preferences of the public

Published: 27 October 2023

Sustainability and Resilience Institute Sustainable Development Goals Project Officer Alice Brock, Deputy Director Professor Simon Kemp and Professor Ian have an upcoming publication in the Journal of Cleaner Production; ‘I’ll Take the Easiest Option Please’ Carbon Reduction Preferences of the Public.’ For the first time this study identifies the deep seated preferences of the public in relation to their carbon reduction behaviours and identifies a strong preference in the public for only wanting to take the ‘easy’ options and a resistance to any behaviour change that would have a large impact on their day to day lives.

This study with support of the Southampton City Council People’s Panel explored the carbon reduction behaviour preferences of 381 members of public using an adaptive Pairwise Comparison Multi-Criteria Decision Analysis method PAPRIKA (Potentially All Pairwise RanKings of all possible Alternatives). The PAPRIKA method provides participants with choices between two alternative scenarios, each scenario has desirable and undesirable aspects, participants must make trade-offs between the two to prioritise the options they most prefer. The PAPRIKA method is adaptive, as participants make choices it adapts the alternative scenarios presented to participants to develop a ranking of their preferences.

For this study participants were offered scenarios concerning different types of behaviours they could change to reduce their carbon emissions, these ranged from low life impact behaviours such as changing over all their home lighting to LED lights, to higher life impact options such as changing to a vegan diet. These options also varied in the impacts they could have on carbon emission reductions, changing to LED lighting for example has a comparatively low reduction compared to the larger reduction in emissions that would come from changing to a vegan diet.

Demographic and climate change attitude data was also gathered to identify trends within different demographic groups which might identify different needs or preferences, and climate change attitude data was gathered for participants to allow identification in any difference in preference between attitudes such as self-reported opinions on climate change severity as a global issue.

Following statistical analysis of the results this study found that the public significantly preferred more convenient and low impact behavioural changes such as changing their lighting, reducing overseas travel and clothing purchasing to those that would require large changes to their lifestyles such as changing their personal car usage and diet. 

Controversially this study found little variation in preferences across demographic groups, all groups would least prefer to change their diet and most preferred to change their lighting behaviour. The only notable variation was that those in lower income brackets would most prefer to reduce their overseas travel behaviour rather than their lighting, likely due to the costs associated with overseas travel. Similar findings were found across climate change attitudes, even those that stated they were highly concerned about climate change and considered it the most pressing global issue still followed the trend of preferring ‘easy’ options rather than those that had a bigger impact on their lives but would have considerably greater carbon emission reductions.

This study provides vital context for those working towards changing the carbon emissions behaviours of the individual. 97% of participants stated that they believed climate change was a fairly serious to extremely serious problem, but this belief and demonstrable awareness of the issue does not translate into a willingness to change the behaviours that would provide the most benefit to tackling climate change.


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