Over at Grist, Dave Roberts has a fascinating interview with congressman Brian Baird, who hails from southwest Washington. Baird argues, basically, that behavioral science is often better context than economics for thinking about climate and energy policy.
Science offers ways of figuring out how to help people understand and adapt to new technologies… nobody designs a fighter plane or a spaceship or a nuclear power plant without human factors engineering. You can’t build a fighter plane without putting people in mockups to see whether they can read the dials, whether alerts make sense, whether the radar information is understandable. That’s social-behavioral research in the applied realm.
These are little, simple things about how to interact with technology. Should adjustable thermostats be pre-programmed at the store so people don’t have to worry about it? It’s not always clear on the water heater how you set the temperature. People say, ha ha, it’s obvious. Well, if it’s so obvious, and people can save money, and people are motivated by the desire to save money, why don’t they do it? The argument that it’s all economics just fails repeatedly, but people continue to make it.
Baird has a PhD in psychology, so he knows of what he speaks. It’s a shame that Congress will be losing his perspective after he retires this year.