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8 Lessons from Analogous Public Education Campaigns Mark R. Rosenzweig A fundamental challenge in environmental policy is to alter the private actions of individuals and institutions so that the social costs and bene- fits of the consequences of those actions are optimally balanced. In many cases, the net private benefits from an action exceed the net social benefits. When this divergence is confined to the decisions of a limited number of ac- tors large firms it is possible for a public agency to effectively regulate the firms' behavior so as to align social and private benefits. When millions of individuals are the agents whose cumulative behavior has an important environmental impact, it is sometimes impractical to attempt to directly enforce behavioral restrictions. One example is the proper disposal of batteries. Monitoring this behavior is not feasible. It is administratively possible to place a tax on batteries to align social and private costs, but such a tax may be politically unpopular. This is not to say that "ecological" taxes are always polit- ically unacceptable, as such taxes have been put in place in European countries. But it is clear there are limits to individual regulation and to taxation as mecha- nisms for achieving public policy goals, perhaps particularly in the United States, so that alternative approaches to altering behavior may be warranted.) One alter- native approach is a program of public education. Chapters 6 and 7 provide examples of public education programs, most of which are outside the environmental arena. The issue is whether we can draw inferences from the experiences described in those chapters to formulate public education campaigns in the environmental realm. Mileti and Peek' s chapter pro- vides the lessons learned from efforts to improve "disaster preparedness" among populations at high risk. Valente and Schuster's chapter describes a number of public education campaigns, mostly focusing on improving health or the effi- 141
42 LESSONS FROM ANALOGOUS PUBLIC EDUCATION CAMPAIGNS ciency by which households control fertility. Although both the target behaviors and the methods of information delivery that are the foci of each chapter appear quite different, they share important features. First, the campaigns are strictly informational, either about the benefits of changing behavior or about the behav- iors of "peer" groups. There is no attempt to change people's values. The pre- sumption is that experts have information that the population does not, and that the transmission of this information therefore will improve welfare. Second, and relatedly, the campaigns emphasize private benefits. Individuals are provided information without reference to externalities or to the collective benefits that exceed the sum of private benefits.2 Individuals and families presumably want to avert the consequences of disasters, reduce the risk of heart disease, and control family size. As a consequence, they have incentives to be better in- formed they will be interested in what is being delivered. I will briefly discuss and evaluate each of the cases discussed in Chapters 6 and 7 by considering a set of questions: First, is there evidence that the cam- paigns actually changed people's behavior? Second, is there evidence that the campaigns were cost-effective, in the sense that the total costs of the campaign did not exceed the total benefits? Third, were the campaigns described the most cost-effective means of achieving the goals, thereby deomonstrating global cost- effectiveness? Finally, I will assess to what extent these campaigns are helpful in providing solutions for protecting the environment. INFORMATION DISSEMINATION IN DISASTER-PRONE AREAS Chapter 7 provides a clear example demonstrating that how a public educa- tion campaign is carried out matters, and that such a campaign can be effective in altering people's behavior. Anyone interested in improving disaster prepared- ness through a public education campaign should read Chapter 7; it provides clear information on what to do and what not to do. However, the chapter does not attempt to describe the costs or benefits of the campaign. Furthermore, there is little discussion of its rationale. In particular, it is not clear how markets have failed such that people' s decisions in a risky environment are suboptimal. There are two types of actions related to risk. First, there are actions taken at the time of an adverse natural event. Second, there are actions taken prior to disastrous events that reduce an individual's vulnerability to disaster, such as bracing a house or moving out of a risky area. Because in this case individuals face all of the costs of not being prepared, they presumably have the appropriate incentives to make whatever risk-reducing costly preparations are in their interest. Or do they? One reason individuals may not be optimally preparing for disasters is that they are effectively protected against the cost of their risk exposure they expect that if their house is destroyed by a flood, they will be financially "bailed out." Government programs that provide emergency assistance, for example, reduce
MARK R. ROSENZ7VEEIG 143 incentives for individuals to reduce risk ex ante. Such public bailouts also drive out private insurance. Yet private insurance companies have incentives to set premiums to reflect risk, inclusive of risk-mitigating actions taken ex ante by policyholders. For example, premiums presumably would be less for braced houses, therefore providing an incentive for people to undertake bracing. Many of these risk-reducing remedies are clearly visible, and thus easily monitored. The point is that removing barriers to insurance markets may be much more cost-effective than education campaigns in improving disaster preparedness. We cannot evaluate a campaign solely by whether it alters behavior. INFORMATION DISSEMINATION AND FERTILITY CHANGE Chapter 6 provides an excellent overview of the issues involved in evaluat- ing public campaigns in the first sense do they alter behavior? The chapter demonstrates why this is not easy to do, and is sensitive to the pitfalls of infer- ring causation from data and to the possibility of alternative interpretations of statistical findings. The chapter would have been more interesting if it had focused on the details of one of the campaigns. Chapter 6 gives special attention to family planning campaigns. Family planning campaigns are perhaps more relevant to environmental issues than campaigns designed to change people's diets or exercise habits. Population growth is viewed by many as relevant to environmental degradation. Fertility decisions taken by families may not fully reflect the social benefits and costs to the extent that the size and growth rate of the population has a direct impact on the environment. This is indeed one of the rationales for the subsidization of family planning efforts, inclusive of both the subvention of the tools of private fertility regulation (contraceptives) and public education campaigns. Public education campaigns directed to altering contraceptive behavior often have had no impact on behavior. What does this lack of behavioral change tell us that is useful? I believe it suggests that campaigns will fail if there is an incorrect diagnosis of the fundamental problem the campaign is attempting to solve in this case, high fertility. Many family planning education campaigns are purely informational, providing information on the tools of fertility control. Research- ers have found that many households are essentially ignorant of modern family planning methods and practices, and conclude that lack of information is the barrier to reducing fertility. This may be a false inference, however, because it ignores the fact that the information people have is the result of choice, reflect- ing the costs and benefits of acquiring the information. Residents of Manhattan do not know much about car repair, or in some cases even how to drive. How- ever, that is not why they do not generally own cars; they do not own cars because cars are expensive to maintain and cheap alternatives are available. Similarly, if households in Bolivia, for example, find it optimal to have large families, based on their preferences or on an evaluation of the costs of children
44 LESSONS FROM ANALOGOUS PUBLIC EDUCATION CAMPAIGNS and their economic benefits, then they have little incentive to inform themselves about efficient ways of reducing fertility. Ignorance thus may be a symptom of more fundamental features of the Bolivian economy or society, not a cause. Providing family planning information to rural Bolivians therefore would have little effect on behavior if the private value of the information to them is low. ALTERNATIVE ANALOGUES The success of the disaster preparedness campaign in terms of altering be- havior and the lack of effect of the many family planning campaigns apparently tell us that if information is valuable to individuals they will use it, although it is not clear from the fact that behavior is altered that the campaign is cost-effective relative to alternatives. Conversely, if information provides little private benefit, then an information-based campaign will be ineffective in any sense, even if there is clear evidence that people do not have the information. It is not at all clear that providing accurate information about the consequences of behaviors is the key ingredient that will reduce the environmental damage caused by particu- lar private actions. For example, recycling provides few private benefits and clearly has private costs. Moreover, the specific social consequences of whether an individual recycles or not are minuscule, so making people aware of the specific damage they cause by not recycling would hardly alter behavior, as is suggested by the findings in Chapter 4. The recycling example also shows, how- ever, that information on the behavior of peers may alter individual behavior. Additional analogous situations may offer more relevant lessons for altering environmentally related behavior, including those in which private actions have little private return, but involve large collective effects. Two examples come to mind. The first example is voting. One person's vote does not count for much. Yet many people vote, so there is hope that people will act with the collective good in mind. Many nonpartisan campaigns have been undertaken to increase voter turnout; perhaps these provide some valuable lessons for changing behav- ior when it is not in an individual's pure self-interest. Again, however, if we are interested in global cost-effectiveness, it is not clear why market-based incen- tives are not more effective than "campaigns" why not give tax benefits to those who vote, or pay voters directly? The second example is in survey re- search. Again, there is little private gain to anyone participating in a survey, but if no one volunteers to participate, there is an important societal loss. Research exists on augmenting survey participation rates that may be relevant to environ- mental education campaigns designed to alter behavior when the private benefits of doing so are negative. Among the findings of this research is that influence techniques such as frequent prompts and reference to the behavior of others (which may provide information on social norms) do alter behavior, along with direct payments.
MARK R. ROSENZVEEIG 145 Finally, if purely information "education" campaigns emphasizing private gains or peer behavior are not effective, then it may be necessary to change people's values to render behavior more socially beneficial. However, setting in place governmental efforts that go beyond the dissemination of scientifically valid information to purposively changing the values of citizens raises ethical questions that are beyond my expertise. However, I believe they should be of concern in considering nonregulatory and nonfinancial alternatives to improving the environmental impact of the choices people make. NOTES 1 For a discussion of the political feasibility of ecological tax reform, see Von Wiezsacker and Jesinghaus (1992). 2 Campaigns in the environment arena also emphasize private benefits. For example, cam- paigns to improve U.S. household energy efficiency involved marketing the idea that households would benefit by reducing their monthly energy costs. REFERENCE Von Wiezsacker, E.U., and J. Jesinghaus 1992 Ecological Tax Reform. London, Eng.: Zed Books.