Research Papers: climate change

Does water scarcity shift the electricity generation mix toward fossil fuels? Empirical evidence from the United States

By Jonathan Eyer, Casey Wichman

Journal of Environmental Economics and Management 87


Water withdrawals for the energy sector are the largest use of fresh water in the United States. Using an econometric model of monthly plant-level electricity generation levels between 2001 and 2012, we estimate the effect of water scarcity on the US electricity fuel mix. We find that hydroelectric generation decreases substantially in response to drought, although this baseline generation is offset primarily by natural gas, depending on the geographic region. We provide empirical evidence that drought can increase emissions of CO2 and local pollutants. We quantify the social costs of water scarcity to be $330,000 per month for each plant that experiences a one-standard deviation increase in water scarcity (2015 dollars), a relationship that persists under future projections of water scarcity.

The Distribution of Environmental Damages

By Solomon Hsiang, Paulina Oliva, Reed Walker

Review of Environmental Economics and Policy, Volume 13, Issue 1


Most regulations designed to reduce environmental externalities impose costs on individuals and firms. A large and growing literature examines whether these costs are disproportionately borne by different sectors of the economy and/or across different groups of individuals. However, much less is known about how the environmental benefits created by these policies are distributed, which mirror the differences in environmental damages associated with existing environmental externalities. We review this burgeoning literature and develop a simple general framework for empirical analysis. We apply this framework to findings concerning the distributional impacts of environmental damages from air pollution, deforestation, and climate change and highlight priorities for future research. A recurring challenge to understanding the distributional effects of environmental damages is distinguishing between cases in which populations are exposed to different levels or changes in an environmental good and those in which an incremental change in the environment may have very different implications for some populations. In the latter case, it is often difficult to empirically identify the underlying sources of heterogeneity in marginal damages because damages may stem from nonlinear and/or heterogeneous damage functions. Nevertheless, understanding the determinants of heterogeneity in environmental benefits and damages is crucial for welfare analysis and policy design.

Educational and Developmental Psychologists Take Action in Response to the Climate Crisis

By Gale M. Sinatra

Educational and Developmental Psychologist


The climate crisis is the defining issue of our time. Educational and developmental psychologists can make clear and important contributions to addressing this existential threat. The articles in the Climate Crisis Special Issue take on the issue of climate change from multiple angles, with varied populations, using different research methods and theoretical frameworks. The special issue makes clear the important role psychologists have to play in addressing the climate crisis.

Supporting Climate Change Understanding with Novel Data Estimation Instruction, and Epistemic Prompts

By Gale M. Sinatra

Journal of Educational Psychology


Texts presenting novel numerical data can shift learners’ attitudes and conceptions about controversial science topics. However, little is known about the mechanisms underlying this conceptual change. The purpose of this study was to investigate two potential mechanisms that underlie learning from novel data: numerical estimation skills and epistemic cognition. This research investigated combinations of two treatments—a numerical estimation and epistemic cognition intervention—that were designed to enhance people’s ability to make sense of key numbers about climate change when integrated into an existing intervention. Results indicated that undergraduate students (N = 516) who engaged with climate change data held fewer misconceptions compared with a group that read an expository text, though their judgments of climate change plausibility were similar. Results also showed that the two modifications to the central intervention did not have statistically significant effects on knowledge or plausibility when compared with the unmodified intervention. However, we found that individuals’ openness to reason with and integrate new evidence significantly moderated the knowledge effects of the intervention when the intervention was supplemented with both modifications. These findings provide emerging evidence that, among those who are open to reason with new evidence, supporting mathematical reasoning skills and reflection on discrepant information can enhance conceptual change in science.

Plausibility Reappraisals and Shifts in Middle School Students’ Climate Change Conceptions

By Doug Lombardi, Gale M.Sinatra, E. Michael Nussbaum

Learning and Instruction, 27


Plausibility is a central but under-examined topic in conceptual change research. Climate change is an important socio-scientific topic; however, many view human-induced climate change as implausible. When learning about climate change, students need to make plausibility judgments but they may not be sufficiently critical or reflective. The purpose of this study was to examine how students’ plausibility judgments and knowledge about human-induced climate change transform during instruction promoting critical evaluation. The results revealed that treatment group participants who engaged in critical evaluation experienced a significant shift in their plausibility judgments toward the scientifically accepted model of human-induced climate change. This shift was accompanied by significant conceptual change postinstruction that was maintained after a six-month delay. A comparison group who experienced a climate change activity that is part of their normal curriculum did not experience statistically significant changes.

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