Behavioral Contagion Could Spread the Benefits of a Carbon Tax

Behavioral Contagion Could Spread the Benefits of a Carbon Tax 1024 776 Lobby Climatique Citoyen - CCL France


Economic view

It’s not too late to fight climate change with a long-overdue policy that would have surprisingly broad impact, an economist says.

By Robert H. Frank

  • Aug. 19, 2020

« Robert H. Frank, un professeur en économie à l’université américain Cornell, explique dans le New York Times comment une contribution carbone peut changer des comportements individuels par « contagion. » En résumé, cela veut dire que le changement de comportement d’une personne crée un exemple qui inspirera d’autres personnes. Comme exemple, il cite le tabagisme : l’indicateur le plus précis qu’une personne fume est le nombre d’amis qu’il ou elle a qui fument eux-mêmes (il note aussi qu’une tendance similaire existe pour la consommation de viande). Il cite aussi une étude de Bryan Bollinger et Kenneth Gillingham, menée en 2012, qui a prouvé que l’installation de panneaux solaires par une famille donne lieu à une nouvelle installation par une autre famille dans les 4 mois suivants. Cet effet devient vite exponentiel, de sorte qu’après 2 ans, l’installation initiale peut donner lieu à 32 autres au total. Du coup, si une taxe carbone incite une poignée d’individus à changer leurs modes de vie, cela pourrait avoir un effet boule de neige conduisant à des progrès rapides. Pourtant, M. Frank avertit qu’une contribution carbone isolée augmenterait les inégalités. Par conséquent, il déclare la nécessité d’une politique de redistribution, et, en particulier, plaide pour renverser les recettes de la contribution carbone aux citoyen.ne.s sous la forme d’un dividende mensuel. » John Ploeg

Meredith Miotke

The United States has been stalled in its approach to climate change, and with attention so heavily focused on the coronavirus pandemic, this may seem an inauspicious moment for action.

But the shock of the pandemic hasn’t merely upended people’s lives. It may also open doors to policy changes previously considered beyond reach. Economic analysis can help identify the most promising opportunities among them.

The economics of climate change is straightforward. Earth is warming both because greenhouse gases are costly to eliminate and because governments have permitted people to emit them into the atmosphere without penalty.

The classical remedy is a carbon tax, a fee on the carbon content of fossil fuels. Generally levied where fuels are extracted or imported, it discourages carbon emissions by making goods with larger carbon footprints more expensive. The World Bank reports that as of 2019, 57 local, regional and national governments have either enacted some form of carbon tax or plan to do so. When people must pay for their emissions, they quickly discover creative ways to reduce them.

Why, then, hasn’t the United States adopted a carbon tax? One hurdle is the fear that emissions would fall too slowly in response to a carbon tax, that more direct measures are needed. Another difficulty is that political leaders have reason to fear voter opposition to taxation of any kind. But there are persuasive rejoinders to both objections.

Regarding the first, critics are correct that a carbon tax alone won’t parry the climate threat. It is also true that as creatures of habit, humans tend to change their behavior only slowly, even in the face of significant financial incentives. But even small changes in behavior are greatly amplified by behavioral contagion — the social scientist’s term for how ideas and behaviors spread from person to person like infectious diseases. And if a carbon tax were to shift the behavior of some individuals now, those changes would quickly spread more widely.

Political Engagement Days at the European Parliament

Political Engagement Days at the European Parliament 1000 750 Lobby Climatique Citoyen - CCL France

So there I am, walking to my first MEP meeting in the EU parliament. I take a moment to appreciate this dream come true. I had considered attending «Sciences Po » (Political Science https://www.sciencespo.fr/) when I was a teenager, having always enjoyed standing for my values, but backed off in fear of getting emotionally overwhelmed in this very codified universe. Life happened, and 20 years later, I end up in Brussels with a Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) team from all over Europe.

We came to attend the CAN Europe general assembly and jumped on the opportunity to try to meet a couple of MEPs. It had been a bit of a last minute thing, our EU regional coordinator, James, throwing it in the arena at our weekly call 2 weeks ago. To give you some background, CCL is a volunteer and non partisan citizen organisation created in 2007 in the US to build political will for a livable world. It has since then spread its wings wildly to over 500 working groups, in 50 countries with 145 000 volunteers. With a successful policy outcome in Canada where our solution has been adopted (and re-elected).

In Europe, some national CCL teams have been efficient at building capacity over years, but it has only been about 6 months since we started to coordinate at a European level. You can imagine that as a newly composed team- all volunteers with different time constraints, geographies and languages-, organisation requires time and effort.

So here we are in Brussels in early November, meeting in person for the very first time. This is already a highlight. Technology is a great asset for expanding strategy and work at a distance, but nothing replaces the human connection. None of us had prior opportunity to lobby at European level, though some of us have had prior national experience. In my case, I had done a couple of lobby meetings when i first joined CCL in Panama a few years ago.

It turns out we not only manage to arrange a couple of meetings, we get a whopping eight meetings confirmed  ! We can hardly believe it. After the first couple of seconds of : « uh-oh, what did we get ourselves into » (hello, fear of under-achievement), we set our strategy and practise. Thankfully, the only presentation we are able to attend on the Political Engagement Day training by CAN Europe gives us a very useful overview of how the EU political dynamic operates.

Our first meeting goes so well, that we are recommended internally by the MEP to meet a political advisor from the party and they arrange a meeting for us the next day. From there it’s been a roller coaster of useful insights and positive learning process for our team. We gain perspective on patterns of interests and concerns between different parties. We find ways to articulate fluid discussion with up to 6 of us that had never even met a couple of days ago. As citizens, we are able to express our concerns about climate change and more importantly, present our Climate Income solution.

And you know what ? It has been received with such warmth and overwhelming enthusiasm that it took us by surprise. I am glad we we opened this window of opportunity and savoured as a team the incredible taste of unexpected fast-forward results. We realise of course that it is only the beginning and that relationships build over time, followed-through actions and commitment. Still, the way this has accelerated and exceeded expectations has been, to date, one of my most intensely positive human experiences.

It gives me a deep faith that I am doing the right things, and it encourages me to keep on jumping out of my comfort zone to follow what I feel is the right direction. Immense gratitude to the rest of the team, that not only played as a team, but also genuinely cared for and after each other. I am confident this approach, based on building from common values and trust is the way forward. I will definitely be an ambassador for this empowering methodology in our society, because it really ticks all of my boxes.

EU International Climate Policy Workshop

EU International Climate Policy Workshop 764 424 Lobby Climatique Citoyen - CCL France

Wondering what climate policies other countries are implementing and what that means for the global society ?

Join James Collis, EU Regional Coordinator – Wolfram Moebius, Policy Team Leader Germany/UK – John Ploeg, Policy Team Specialist US/France – Alex Kazimirov, CCL Europe Research Associate US/Greece – John Dams, Liaisons & Scheduling Belgium

to learn what the EU is doing, then gear up for a mini climate policy negotiation with the United States and the UN.

Report of the High-Level Commission on Carbon Pricing and Competitiveness

Report of the High-Level Commission on Carbon Pricing and Competitiveness 496 359 Lobby Climatique Citoyen - CCL France

Read the report En 2017, le Carbon Pricing Leadership Council a convoqué la Commission de haut niveau sur la tarification du carbone (« the High Level Commission on Carbon Pricing »). Elle était présidée par Nicholas Stern (auteur du fameux « rapport Stern ») et Joseph Stigliz (lauréat Nobel), et a bénéficié de l’assistance de la Banque Mondiale, de…


Créons la volonté politique pour un monde vivable

Nous joindre



Réseaux sociaux

Lobby Climatique Citoyen – CCL France © 2020 Les Crayons