Article | Published:

Household behaviour crowds out support for climate change policy when sufficient progress is perceived

Nature Climate Change volume 7, pages 512515 (2017) | Download Citation


Household actions and government policies are both necessary to mitigate the effects of climate change. However, household behaviour may crowd out public support for government action by creating the perception of sufficient progress. Here we demonstrate this crowding-out effect in public opinion using survey experiments with more than 14,000 participants in Japan. Subjects who were randomly assigned to report their energy-saving actions following the shutdown of the Fukushima power plant were less likely to support a tax increase on carbon emissions. Treatment effects were larger for subjects who had completed more actions. Further evidence suggests that the crowding-out effect may have been driven by an increase in the perceived importance of individual actions relative to government regulation and a decrease in the perceived issue importance of energy and environmental sustainability.

Access optionsAccess options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.


  1. 1.

    , , , & Household actions can provide a behavioral wedge to rapidly reduce US carbon emissions. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 106, 18452–18456 (2009).

  2. 2.

    & Public opinion on energy policy: 1974–2006. Public Opin. Q. 72, 364–388 (2008).

  3. 3.

    & Mass support for global climate agreements depends on institutional design. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 110, 13763–13768 (2013).

  4. 4.

    , , , & Positive and negative spillover of pro-environmental behavior: an integrative review and theoretical framework. Glob. Environ. Change 29, 127–138 (2014).

  5. 5.

    The importance of being green: the influence of green behaviors on Americans’ political attitudes toward climate change. Environ. Behav. 47, 754–781 (2015).

  6. 6.

    Don’t be satisfied, identify! Strengthening positive spillover by connecting pro-environmental behaviors to an ‘environmentalist’ label. J. Environ. Psychol. 48, 149–158 (2016).

  7. 7.

    , , , & From plastic bottle recycling to policy support: an experimental test of pro-environmental spillover. J. Environ. Psychol. 46, 55–66 (2016).

  8. 8.

    & Goals as excuses or guides: the liberating effect of perceived goal progress on choice. J. Consumer Res. 32, 370–377 (2005).

  9. 9.

    , & Subgoals as substitutes or complements: the role of goal accessibility. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 91, 232–242 (2006).

  10. 10.

    Individualization: plant a tree, buy a bike, save the world? Glob. Environ. Polit. 1, 31–52 (2001).

  11. 11.

    , & Communication and collective actions: a survey experiment on motivating energy conservation in the US. J. Exp. Polit. Sci. 1, 24–38 (2014).

  12. 12.

    Government policy and citizen passion: a study of issue publics in contemporary America. Polit. Behav. 12, 59–92 (1990).

  13. 13.

    Voluntary provision of public goods for bads: a theory of environmental offsets. Econ. J. 119, 883–899 (2009).

  14. 14.

    Toward a coherent theory of environmentally significant behavior. J. Soc. Issues 56, 407–424 (2000).

  15. 15.

    & Licensing effect in consumer choice. J. Mark. Res. 43, 259–266 (2006).

  16. 16.

    Politics and Volunteering in Japan (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2007).

  17. 17.

    Menu for Electricity Saving at Homes (Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry, 2011);

  18. 18.

    Details on the Carbon Tax (Ministry of the Environment, Japan, 2012);

  19. 19.

    & The self-importance of moral identity. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 83, 1423–1440 (2002).

  20. 20.

    & Field Experiments: Design, Analysis, and Interpretation (W. W. Norton & Company, 2012).

Download references


Progress on this paper was perceived as sufficient only due to helpful feedback and support from J. Hainmueller, M. Kohno, P. Lipscy, B. Monin and M. Tomz. This research was also supported by a Japan Fund Grant from the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University and the National Science Foundation under Grant No. DGE-114747. The ideas presented in this paper do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Author information


  1. Department of Political Science, Stanford University, 616 Serra Street, Stanford, California 94305, USA

    • Seth H. Werfel


  1. Search for Seth H. Werfel in:


S.H.W. designed the experiments, analysed the data and wrote the paper.

Competing interests

The author declares no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Seth H. Werfel.

Supplementary information

PDF files

  1. 1.

    Supplementary Information

    Supplementary Information

About this article

Publication history





Further reading