Nudging out support for a carbon tax

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A carbon tax is widely accepted as the most effective policy for curbing carbon emissions but is controversial because it imposes costs on consumers. An alternative, ‘nudge,’ approach promises smaller benefits but with much lower costs. However, nudges aimed at reducing carbon emissions could have a pernicious indirect effect if they offer the promise of a ‘quick fix’ and thereby undermine support for policies of greater impact. Across six experiments, including one conducted with individuals involved in policymaking, we show that introducing a green energy default nudge diminishes support for a carbon tax. We propose that nudges decrease support for substantive policies by providing false hope that problems can be tackled without imposing considerable costs. Consistent with this account, we show that by minimizing the perceived economic cost of the tax and disclosing the small impact of the nudge, eliminates crowding-out without diminishing support for the nudge.

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Fig. 1: Introducing a green energy nudge reduces support for a carbon tax.
Fig. 2: Support for a carbon tax in the presence of a related or unrelated nudge in Study 2.
Fig. 3: Effect of nudge option on tax support across policy domains in Study 3.
Fig. 4: Support for carbon tax and green energy nudge in Study 4.

Data availability

The raw data from all our experiments and statistical code for all analyses and figures reported in the paper and the supplementary information are available via the Open Science Framework at:


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We thank R. Thaler and C. Sunstein for helpful comments and discussions. D.H. is grateful for funding from the Swiss National Science Foundation’s Doc.Mobility fellowship.

Author information

All authors contributed equally to the development of the ideas and authoring of the paper. D.H. implemented the surveys and managed the data collection. E.H. performed the statistical analyses and D.H. assisted.

Correspondence to David Hagmann.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Journal peer review information: Nature Climate Change thanks M. Galizzi, A. Maki and S. Werfel for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Supplementary Information

Supplementary Tables 1–12, Supplementary Notes 1–7, Supplementary Figures 1–9, Supplementary References and Supplementary Methods.

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