My new research direction aims to build on the insights from small scale experiments to address global sustainability problems. We know that communities are very effective in solving collective action problems in the right conditions. They can build and maintain trust relationships. This is challenged in larger populations, especially the global scale.
20 years ago I started as a trainee in the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment looking at climate change. It was clear at that time that global carbon emissions had to be stabilized at the 1990 level and preferably be reduced to avoid a magic climate change. A future increase of emissions would require a dramatic reduction of carbon emissions. Since 1990 the carbon emissions due to fossil fuel use have increased 43% despite various climate treaties and an economic depression. So far for policies on paper.
There is hope by using insights from what lead to behavioral change in combination with new communication technologies. Social media makes it much easier to connect people of similar interests and this leads to interesting experiments that may make a difference. We should study and collect these experiments and enable them to scale up in a distributed fashion. These local initiatives fit very well with the concern to use the same policy in every context.
An interesting example is carrotmob which started in 2008 in San Francisco. Consumers organize to buy at the shop which make the biggest commitment to change. The revenues of consumers who show up during the mob day are used to finance these changes. Hence by organizing consumers one can stimulate companies to change and finance their changes.