Working Paper Number
This is the draft of a chapter from a forthcoming book related to the conference Sensing Change: Mapping the Climatic Imaginary through Art, Science and History, held at the Chemical Heritage Foundation November 7-9, 2013.
The artwork shown in the exhibit Sensing Change is part of a thriving environmental art movement. There is a long history of art influencing environmental attitudes and to some extent behavior. Historically such art has used what photography critic Vicki Goldberg calls the “pastoral eulogy” approach but there is also a more critical approach that emphasizes the environmental damage and risk associated with human behavior. Ecological artist Ruth Wallen says, “Ecological art work can help engender an intuitive appreciation of the environment, address core values, advocate political action, and broaden intellectual understanding.” But there is little evidence about whether people change their behavior in response to this sort of art. This chapter uses a contingent choice survey (a kind of choice experiment) to investigate whether exposure to such artwork influences environmental behavior, in particular the purchase of carbon offsets. (Purchasing offsets provides funding for activities that reduce net greenhouse gas emissions.)
Contingent choice surveys are often used to analyze respondents’ environmental behavior and/or the underlying preferences for environmental goods and resources driving that behavior. In these surveys, respondents choose among a selection of hypothetical or real scenarios comprised of varying levels of different variables. Based on the choices they make, the relative importance of the different variables can be estimated. In the survey upon which this chapter is based, respondents chose from alternative carbon offset purchase options, including the option to buy no offsets. The central questions are as follows: what would make respondents more or less likely to choose to buy no offsets, and did respondents who saw artwork as part of the survey differ systematically from those who didn’t?
Subsets of respondents in a choice experiment investigating willingness to buy carbon offsets were shown artistic images related to climate change. One subset was shown photographs from The Canary Project (Susannah Sayler and Edward Morris); another subset was shown images from the Wind Map: Poetry in Motion project (Fernanda Viégas and Martin Wattenberg); a control group was not shown any artistic images. The survey responses were analyzed to explore whether the artistic images affected respondents' willingness to buy carbon offsets. Another issue investigated was whether the images affect the ways in which the willingness to buy carbon offsets is influenced by other factors. These other factors include the types of mitigation efforts being funded by offsets and also personal characteristics of the respondents such as age, income, and adherence to social norms.
The results of the split-sample contingent choice survey indicate that respondents who were shown photographs by the Canary Project that illustrate the impacts of climate change were more likely to purchase carbon offsets than were respondents in a control group. This is even though the respondents viewed the images only briefly: typically for less than a minute. Not all artistic images had this effect, though: respondents who saw animated images from the Wind Map Project that illustrate wind speeds and patterns for extreme weather events were actually less willing to buy offsets than the control group. Results indicate that preferences about buying carbon offsets are very heterogeneous, but in all cases the pattern remains that respondents in the treatment group that saw the Canary Project photos are more likely to buy offsets and respondents in the treatment group that saw the Wind Map Project images are less likely to buy offsets. The heterogeneity was driven largely by variables related to social norms and expectations. But the differences across treatment groups were not driven by differences in individual characteristics.
The chapter continues with some thoughts about why the responses to the Canary Project and Wind Map Project art differed. The chapter concludes with some ideas for future survey-based research exploring the impact of art on environmental attitudes and behavior.
Turner, Robert W., "Do Artistic Images Affect the Willingness to Buy Carbon Offsets? An Empirical Study" (2014). Economics Faculty Working Papers. 40.