Household Actions can Provide a Behavioral Wedge to Rapidly Reduce US Carbon Emissions


September 11, 2009 - Author: ; Gerald T. Gardner; Jonathan Gilligan; Paul C. Stern; Michael P. Vandenbergh

Journal or Book Title: PNAS

Volume/Issue: 106/44

Page Number(s): 18452-18456

Year Published: 2009

Most climate change policy attention has been addressed to long-term options, such as inducing new, low-carbon energy technologies and creating cap-andtrade regimes for emissions. We use a behavioral approach to examine the reasonably achievable potential for near-term reductions by altered adoption
and use of available technologies in US homes and nonbusiness travel. We estimate the plasticity of 17 household action types in 5 behaviorally distinct categories by use of data on the most effective documented interventions that do not involve new regulatory measures. These interventions vary by type of action and typically combine several policy tools and strong social marketing. National implementation could save an estimated 123 million metric tons of carbon per year in year 10, which is 20% of household direct emissions or 7.4% of US national emissions, with little or no reduction in household well-being. The potential of household action deserves increased policy attention. Future analyses of this potential should incorporate behavioral as well as economic and engineering elements.

Type of Publication: Journal Article


Elinor Ostrom



Thomas Dietz

Thomas Dietz

For more information visit:

Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability

Accessibility Questions:

For questions about accessibility and/or if you need additional accommodations for a specific document, please send an email to ANR Communications & Marketing at