Can social science save us?

When confronted with seemingly simple choices, people will often behave in surprising ways. Amusing. But when confronted with the scientific consensus linking human activity to global climate change, foggy, fated thinking could turn out to be a very costly diversion.

Decision making is serious business. New York Times, "Why Isn't the Brain Green?" talks about an interdisciplinary group of anthropologists, economists and psychologists that have come together to study complex decision making:

It isn’t immediately obvious why such studies are necessary or even valuable. Indeed, in the United States scientific community, where nearly all dollars for climate investigation are directed toward physical or biological projects, the notion that vital environmental solutions will be attained through social-science research — instead of improved climate models or innovative technologies — is an aggressively insurgent view. You might ask the decision scientists, as I eventually did, if they aren’t overcomplicating matters. Doesn’t a low-carbon world really just mean phasing out coal and other fossil fuels in favor of clean-energy technologies, domestic regulations and international treaties? None of them disagreed. Some smiled patiently. But all of them wondered if I had underestimated the countless group and individual decisions that must precede any widespread support for such technologies or policies. 'Let’s start with the fact that climate change is anthropogenic,' [Columbia business school's Elke] Weber told me one morning in her Columbia office. 'More or less, people have agreed on that. That means it’s caused by human behavior. That’s not to say that engineering solutions aren’t important. But if it’s caused by human behavior, then the solution probably also lies in changing human behavior.'

Wayne