Responding to the Cry of the Earth: Using Behavioral Economics to Assess Public Support for Improvements in Air Quality.
Pope Francis has expressed concern for the future of our planet and issued a call to answer the Cry of the Earth to seek sustainable and integral development. The Laudato Si’ Action Platform (LSAP) is a response to the Pope’s exhortation. It is a global initiative that urges a response to the Cry of the Earth and supports the adoption of energy measures to guarantee access to a cleaner environment for all. My research focuses on the issue of air pollution that stems from coal-fired power plants and contributes to a significant number of negative environmental and health effects. A response to the Cry of the Earth and meeting a stated goal of the LSAP necessitates an examination of concerted policy responses to improving air quality. This paper will focus on insights offered by Behavioral Economics to understand public awareness about air pollution and how perceptions influence the public's behavior regarding the environment. I plan to study the use of the Willingness to Pay (WTP) method to assess the optimality of existing environmental regulations concerning air pollution. A “WTP” methodology is based on estimating the total benefit that people will gain via increased health benefits if air quality is improved. These WTP estimates can provide guidelines for budgetary allocations for environmental policies. For the empirical part of my research, I would like to direct specific attention to pollution stemming from coal-fired power plants. The reliance on such plants to fulfil energy needs has engendered negative impacts on air quality and public health. Governments worldwide face difficult choices in their fiscal priorities to support economic growth while balancing the need to reduce the climate impact of their growing prosperity. Recent scholarly work on public awareness of environmental policies has directed attention to age, education, gender, income, and marital status. Researchers have also just begun to examine constructs such as values, beliefs, and attitudes. I plan to explore this nascent literature on determinants of willingness to pay (WTP). I will examine such studies from two viewpoints. One, I will investigate the socioeconomic and demographic factors that correlate with variability in WTP, and two, I will psychographic- behavioral and cultural determinants of clean air valuation. Nuanced insights on these different determinants of WTP will allow for a more realistic integration of the attitudes and behavior of consumers into new policy and business model proposals. Scholars know that existing resources and public funding alone will not be enough to protect our common home from the ravages of air pollution. In this context, an alternate perspective viz. a willingness to pay approach (WTP) that evaluates costs and benefits to estimate the price of non-marketed goods such as “air quality’ might prove useful. As such, WTP surveys can provide practical information about public support for specific clean air initiatives. Policymakers can use this data to better guide their efforts to address the Cry of the Earth and bring us closer to the goals envisaged by LSAP.