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On Strategic Ignorance of Environmental Harm and Social Norms

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Abstract

Are people strategically ignorant of the negative externalities their activities cause the environment? Herein we examine if people avoid costless information on those externalities and use ignorance as an excuse to reduce pro-environmental behavior. We develop a theoretical framework in which people feel guilt from causing harm to the environment (e.g., emitting carbon dioxide) and from deviating from the social norm for pro-environmental behavior (e.g., offsetting carbon emissions). Our model predicts that people may benefit from avoiding information on their harm to the environment, and that they use ignorance as an excuse to engage in less pro-environmental behavior. It also predicts that the cost of ignorance increases if people can learn about the social norm from the information. We test the model predictions empirically with an experiment that involves an imaginary long- distance flight and an option to buy offsets for the flight’s carbon footprint. More than half (53 percent) of the subjects choose to ignore information on the carbon footprint alone before deciding their offset purchase, but ignorance significantly decreases (to 29 percent) when the information additionally reveals the social norm, namely the share of air travelers who buy carbon offsets. We find evidence that some people use ignorance as an excuse to reduce pro-environmental behavior— ignorance significantly decreases the probability of buying carbon offsets.

Suggested Citation

  • Thunström, Linda & van 't Veld, Klaas & Shogren, Jason F. & Nordström, Jonas, 2013. "On Strategic Ignorance of Environmental Harm and Social Norms," Working Papers 2013:22, Lund University, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:hhs:lunewp:2013_022
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    File URL: http://project.nek.lu.se/publications/workpap/papers/WP13_22.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Tara Larson & C. Monica Capra, 2009. "Exploiting moral wiggle room: Illusory preference for fairness? A comment," Judgment and Decision Making, Society for Judgment and Decision Making, vol. 4(6), pages 467-474, October.
    2. Linda Thunström & Jonas Nordström & Jason F. Shogren & Mariah Ehmke & Klaas Veld, 2016. "Strategic self-ignorance," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 52(2), pages 117-136, April.
    3. Charness, Gary & Gneezy, Uri, 2008. "What's in a name? Anonymity and social distance in dictator and ultimatum games," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 68(1), pages 29-35, October.
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    Cited by:

    1. Freddi, Eleonora, 2017. "Do People Avoid Morally Relevant Information? Evidence from the Refugee Crisis," Discussion Paper 2017-034, Tilburg University, Center for Economic Research.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Behavioral; Decision Making; Externality; Ignorance; Social norms;

    JEL classification:

    • D03 - Microeconomics - - General - - - Behavioral Microeconomics: Underlying Principles
    • D81 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Criteria for Decision-Making under Risk and Uncertainty
    • D83 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Search; Learning; Information and Knowledge; Communication; Belief; Unawareness

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