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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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: https://osf.io/w4u5q/.
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.
Publisher’s note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
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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.
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Nature Climate Change (2019)