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The Perception and Valuation of the Risks of Climate Change: A Rational and Behavioral Blend

  • W. Kip Viscusi
  • Richard Zeckhauser

Over 250 respondents--graduate students in law and public policy--assessed the risks of climate change and valued climate-change mitigation policies. Many aspects of their behavior were consistent with rational behavior. For example, respondents successfully estimated distributions of temperature increases in Boston by 2100. The median value of best estimates was 1-3 degrees Fahrenheit. In addition, people with higher risk estimates, whether for temperature or related risks (e.g., hurricane intensities) offered more to avoid warming. Median willingness to pay (WTP) to avoid global warming was $0.50/gallon, and 3% of income. And important scope tests (e.g., respondents paid more for bigger accomplishments) were passed. However, significant behavioral propensities also emerged. For example, accessibility of neutral information on global warming boosted risk estimates. Warming projections correlated with estimates for unrelated risks, such as earthquakes and heart attacks. The implied WTP for avoidance was much greater when asked as a percent of income than as a gas tax, a percent thinking bias. Home team betting showed itself; individuals predicting a Bush victory predicted smaller temperature increases. In the climate-change arena, behavioral decision tendencies are like a fun-house mirror: They magnify some estimates and shrink others, but the contours of rational decision remain recognizable.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 11863.

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Date of creation: Dec 2005
Date of revision:
Publication status: published as Viscusi, W. Kip and Richard J. Zeckhauser. “The Perception and Valuation of the Risks of Climate Change: A Rational and Behavioral Blend.” Climatic Change 77, 1/2 (July 2006): 151-177.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:11863
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  1. Debra Israel & Arik Levinson, 2002. "Willingness to Pay for Environmental Quality: Testable Empirical Implications of the Growth and Environment Literature," Working Papers gueconwpa~02-02-09, Georgetown University, Department of Economics.
  2. Joseph E. Aldy & Scott Barrett & Robert N. Stavins, 2003. "Thirteen plus one: a comparison of global climate policy architectures," Climate Policy, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 3(4), pages 373-397, December.
  3. Laibson, David I., 1997. "Golden Eggs and Hyperbolic Discounting," Scholarly Articles 4481499, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  4. Amos Tversky & Daniel Kahneman, 1979. "Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk," Levine's Working Paper Archive 7656, David K. Levine.
  5. Kahneman, Daniel & Knetsch, Jack L., 1992. "Valuing public goods: The purchase of moral satisfaction," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 22(1), pages 57-70, January.
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