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Changing household consumption to address climate change: social scientific insights and challenges

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Abstract

Reducing greenhouse gas (GHG)-intensive consumption can be an important route to reducing the GHG emissions that cause climate change. To effectively mitigate climate change by reforming human consumption patterns we must have a comprehensive understanding of the linkages between consumption and climate change and how consumption may be altered. This article begins by reviewing the empirical research that links consumption and GHG emissions and identifies GHG-intensive actions and systems. We then identify four social science understandings of consumption: the consumer as homo economicus, the predictably irrational consumer, the locked-in consumer, and the socially organized consumer. These understandings of consumption that emerge from economics, psychology, anthropology, and sociology lead us to different conclusions on what can be done to change consumption patterns to mitigate climate change. To effectively transform consumption, we advocate the implementation of a range of policy solutions and explore several levers for managing change. WIREs Clim Change 2012 doi: 10.1002/wcc.182

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