Some technologies, such as solar or wind power, create certain but relatively small reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Others, such as carbon sequestration devices, have larger potential upsides, but a greater possibility of failure. Here we show using economic games that people will invest in high-risk high-reward technologies when more certain options will not be sufficient. Groups of players had to contribute enough to avoid a simulated climate change disaster. Players could defect, make a certain contribution or make a risky contribution with a high potential gain. Across four studies using both laboratory (n = 296 and n = 297) and online (n = 501 and n = 499) samples, we found that more players made riskier contributions when necessary targets could not be met otherwise, regardless of the magnitude of potential losses. These results suggest that individuals are willing to invest in risky technology when it is necessary to mitigate climate change.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution
Open Access articles citing this article.
Nature Communications Open Access 14 March 2023
Scientific Reports Open Access 02 February 2022
Access Nature and 54 other Nature Portfolio journals
Get Nature+, our best-value online-access subscription
$29.99 / 30 days
cancel any time
Subscribe to this journal
Receive 12 print issues and online access
$209.00 per year
only $17.42 per issue
Rent or buy this article
Prices vary by article type
Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout
Dietz, T., Ostrom, E. & Stern, P. C. The struggle to govern the commons. Science 302, 1907–1912 (2003).
IPCC Climate Change 2014: Synthesis Report (eds Core Writing Team, Pachauri, R. K. & Meyer L. A.) (IPCC, 2015).
IPCC Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change (eds Edenhofer, O. et al.) (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2014).
Hafner-Burton, E. M., LeVeck, B. L., Victor, D. G. & Fowler, J. H. Decision maker preferences for international legal cooperation. Int. Organ. 4, 845–876 (2014).
Smith, N. C. in The Oxford Handbook of Corporate Social Responsibility (eds Crane, A. et al.) Ch. 12 (Oxford Univ. Press, Oxford, 2008).
Tavoni, A., Dannenberg, A., Kallis, G. & Löschel, A. Inequality, communication, and the avoidance of disastrous climate change in a public goods game. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 108, 11825–11829 (2011).
Milinski, M., Sommerfeld, R. D., Krambeck, H.-J., Reed, F. A. & Marotzke, J. The collective-risk social dilemma and the prevention of simulated dangerous climate change. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 105, 2291–2294 (2008).
Barrett, S. & Dannenberg, A. Climate negotiations under scientific uncertainty. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 109, 17372–17376 (2012).
Wilson, R. K. The contribution of behavioral economics to political science. Annu. Rev. Polit. Sci. 14, 201–223 (2011).
Burton-Chellew, M. N., May, R. M. & West, S. A. Combined inequality in wealth and risk leads to disaster in the climate change game. Climatic Change 120, 815–830 (2013).
Vasconcelos, V. V., Santos, F. C., Pacheco, J. M. & Levin, S. A. Climate policies under wealth inequality. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 111, 2212–2216 (2014).
Milinski, M., Röhl, T. & Marotzke, J. Cooperative interaction of rich and poor can be catalyzed by intermediate climate targets. Climatic Change 109, 807–814 (2011).
Del Ponte, A., Delton, A. W., Kline, R., & Seltzer, N. A. Passing it along: experiments on creating the negative externalities of climate change. J. Polit. 79, 1444–1448 (2017).
Jacquet, J. et al. Intra- and intergenerational discounting in the climate game. Nat. Clim. Change 3, 1025–1028 (2013).
Milinski, M., Hilbe, C., Semmann, D., Sommerfeld, R. & Marotzke, J. Humans choose representatives who enforce cooperation in social dilemmas through extortion. Nat. Commun. 7, 10915 (2016).
Mishra, S., Barclay, P. & Sparks, A. The relative state model: integrating need-based and ability-based pathways to risk-taking. Pers. Soc. Psychol. Rev. 21, 176–198 (2017).
Rode, C., Cosmides, L., Hell, W. & Tooby, J. When and why do people avoid unknown probabilities in decisions under uncertainty? Testing some predictions from optimal foraging theory. Cognition 72, 269–304 (1999).
Wang, X. T. Domain-specific rationality in human choices: violations of utility axioms and social contexts. Cognition 60, 31–63 (1996).
Stephens, D. & Krebs, J. Foraging Theory (Princeton Univ. Press, Princeton, NY, 1986).
Amir, O., Rand, D. G. & Gal, Y. K. Economic games on the internet: the effect of $1 stakes. PLoS ONE 7, e31461 (2012).
Mishra, S. Decision-making under risk. Pers. Soc. Psychol. Rev. 18, 280–307 (2014).
Simonsohn, U. Two-lines: a valid alternative to the invalid testing of U-shaped relationships with quadratic regressions. SSRN https://doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3021690 (2018).
Clifford, S. & Jerit, J. Is there a cost to convenience? An experimental comparison of data quality in laboratory and online studies. J. Exp. Polit. Sci. 1, 120–131 (2014).
Leiserowitz, A. Climate Change risk perception and policy preferences: the role of affect, imagery, and values. Climatic Change 77, 45–72 (2006).
O’Connor, R. E., Bord, R. J. & Fisher, A. Risk perceptions, general environmental beliefs, and willingness to address climate change. Risk. Anal. 19, 461–471 (1999).
Hurly, A. T. The twin threshold model: risk-intermediate foraging by rufous hummingbirds, Selasphorus rufus. Anim. Behav. 66, 751–761 (2003).
Caraco, T., Martindale, S. & Whittam, T. S. An empirical demonstration of risk-sensitive foraging preferences. Anim. Behav. 28, 820–830 (1980).
Eckel, C. C. & Grossman, P. J. Sex differences and statistical stereotyping in attitudes toward financial risk. Evol. Hum. Behav. 23, 281–295 (2002).
Paolacci, G., Chandler, J. & Ipeirotis, P. G. Running experiments on Amazon Mechanical Turk. Judgm. Decis. Mak. 5, 411–419 (2010).
We thank A. Levine for helpful feedback and P. W. Kraft for his assistance with the analysis. Funding was provided by the Center for Behavioral Political Economy at Stony Brook University as well as the Research Fund for Faculty in the Arts, Humanities, and lettered Social Sciences at Stony Brook University.
The authors declare no competing interests.
Publisher’s note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
About this article
Cite this article
Andrews, T.M., Delton, A.W. & Kline, R. High-risk high-reward investments to mitigate climate change. Nature Clim Change 8, 890–894 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-018-0266-y
This article is cited by
Nature Communications (2023)
Is a Rational Politics of Disaster Possible? Making Useful Decisions for Others in an Experimental Disaster Game
Political Behavior (2023)
Scientific Reports (2022)
Sustainability Science (2021)
Anthropogenic climate change as a monumental niche construction process: background and philosophical aspects
Biology & Philosophy (2020)