The SOCCR2 organizers are to be commended for making considerable new efforts to expand the presence of social science perspectives within this assessment. There are however ways that such efforts should be improved. The chapter suffers from its attempt to introduce social science insights into analysis of the carbon cycle while explicitly ignoring economic aspects of the influence of “people”. As a result, the text intends to “go beyond” economics, but it does not provide an indication of the baseline of economic analysis it is intended to correct or supplement. As a result, it does not give insight into the contribution of more behavioral-science-based research and analysis.
With its focus on the demand for energy services (a main aspect of “embeddedness”) the chapter does not consider the social science aspects of energy supply (e.g., fuel choice, technological innovation, access, infrastructure), and the influence of the supply system on carbon emissions. Also, the chapter’s focus on regulated electric power leaves out other sectors (e.g., transport, industry), giving the impression that there are no (non-economic) social science aspects of carbon in these sectors. As a result of this choice of focus, the text fails to give sufficient attention to the main source of social concern with the carbon cycle, which is via climate and the influence of carbon emissions on climate change.
In addition, much of the chapter is focused on the conduct of social science research rather than on lessons learned from it. We urge the authors to focus less on the general state of social science research and more on areas where it could inform decision making, and on constructive directions for future research.
Statement of Task Questions
- Are the goals, objectives and intended audience of the product clearly described in the document? Does the report meet its stated goals?
The goal of this chapter is not clearly stated, and appears only as a passing comment in 6.10 Conclusions: that is, to provide perspectives of social science research and analysis that “have gone beyond” much of available carbon science work that is “sector based and economically minded”—work that is yet not sufficiently reflected in carbon cycle studies. This goal, and the exclusion of economics from the chapter’s definition of social science, should be stated explicitly at the start of the text.
Also, the reader should be alerted at the start that there is no attempt to be comprehensive—to consider an integrated picture of society-carbon interaction that produces CO2 emissions. The authors could reference the recent Academies report on the Social Cost of Carbon (NASEM, 2017), which covers damages from climate change. The chapter’s focus is on demand for energy services and studies of individual consumer behavior in regulated (electric) utilities, and it does not deal with social science dimensions of other sectors (e.g., transport, industry, and agriculture, forestry and soils). The text does not make a connection to CO2 emissions and the overall carbon cycle through fuel choice, carbon intensity, etc. The initial statement of goals should make clear that examples are selected to illustrate the social science methods that the chapter promotes.
- Does the report accurately reflect the scientific literature? Are there any critical areas missing from the report?
Since “social science” is defined as excluding economics, large parts of the relevant literature—that provides the background for the sociological and behavioral research (which often in the text is promoted as correcting behavioral assumptions of economic analysis)—are not reflected. As a result, the material that is covered lacks context. Examples are to be found in Sections 6.2, 6.4 and 6.5.
In Section 6.2 on Energy Behavior and Embedded Carbon:
- Statements about the lack of study of the structure and evolution of energy demand (e.g., p.256, lines 2-4) are not correct
- The text largely ignores price/cost as one determinant of the behavior of “the people” that are the focus of the chapter, and does not place the behavioral science in the context of decades of work on price and income elasticity (e.g., p.56, lines 23-34).
- The cited work in behavioral economics (e.g., p.257, lines 20-31) fails to make the distinction between studies based on experiments with small numbers of individuals versus empirical analysis of populations in actual market circumstances.
- The discussion of rebound effects fails to put the discussion in the context of a history of empirical analysis of rebound behavior observed in particular markets.
Section 6.4 on Scenarios provides an inadequate description of the field:
- Incorrectly the text ties all work in the area to cases developed to support IPCC activities (IS92, SRES, RCPs) and ignores the efforts of the EIA, IEA, industry groups (e.g., Shell, Exxon, BP) and the large literature of the community of integrated assessment modelers.
- Incorrectly it also says the scenarios are developed largely for inputs to Earth System Models and ignores another main use as a basis for policy studies.
- Though the citations are provided, the discussion could convey a better understanding of the reason for the structure of the RCPs (i.e., to avoid the time disjunction between the emissions projections and climate runs in the IPCC process), and the original purpose of the SSPs (to seek coherence between socioeconomic assumptions in emissions projections and in analysis of impacts and vulnerability).
Section 6.5 on Vulnerability does not set the context of the large body research in this area. There are scattered references, but the text pays to little attention to work of the Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability (IAV) community. There is also scant recognition of U.S. efforts in particular cities, particular industries, etc., or of the role of social science analysis of this process.
Also, in Section 6.7 on Sociological Transitions, the economic context is missing when it is declared that, “Well-developed systems are unlikely to be overthrown . . . through market processes” absent strong government policies. The statement is contradicted by many obvious historical examples (whale oil for lighting? hand-picking of cotton?).
- Are the findings documented in a consistent, transparent and credible way?
The nature of this chapter, which provides “perspectives” on the potential role of under-represented areas of research and analysis, means it does not yield “findings” akin to those of other chapters, and several of those provided seem “forced”. The authors were presumably required to come up with at
least 4 or 5 key findings, even though the text does not seek to describe new learning or research, or to present empirical results.
One new finding that would be consistent with the goal of the chapter and the arguments in the text would be one constructed around the observation that there are useful applications of (non-economic) social and behavioral science that are not sufficiently exploited in current efforts to understand the carbon cycle.
Comments on specific key findings:
Key Finding 1 (Embedded Carbon). The statement that “carbon is embedded in almost all societal activities” is obviously correct (e.g., given that we live on carbon-based foods, and that we have developed an economy based on fossil fuels). But this concept seems better presented as common knowledge, not as key finding of research and analysis.
Key Finding 2 (Systems Approach). Without further definition, the term “centered on people” does not add to the description. Also, the fact that systems approaches can reveal options for emissions reduction is correct, but this is not a research finding but a restatement of common knowledge.
Key Finding 3 (Social Dependence). The evidence base for this finding, and indeed the text as a whole, does not highlight areas of social dependence on the C-cycle other than climate change. Therefore, climate should be clearly stated as the main point in this finding (with subsequent re-consideration of the assigned level of confidence in the finding).
Key Finding 4 (Transitions). Absent a quantitative definition of “low carbon”, and an accompanying definition of “feasible”, the finding is meaningless. No such definitions are provided, and the examples cited in this finding do not help. Also, without inclusion of economics in the coverage of social science it will not be possible to back up such a finding. Finally, with such a weak definition of a “transition” there is no basis for the confidence level assigned.
- Are the report’s key messages and graphics clear and appropriate? Specifically, to they reflect supporting evidence, include an assessment of likelihood, and communicate effectively?
There are no graphics, or messages requiring them. The chapter is chiefly about the nature of social science research that has relevance to the carbon cycle and the areas where the authors believe that additional research is needed.
- Are the research needs identified in the report appropriate?
The chapter summarizes the general objectives of research in this area, but does not provide specific work by discipline, or suggest priorities and how they relate to larger carbon cycle issues. Much of the discussion regarding findings (e.g. in Sections 6.2.2 and 6.3.2) seem generic and could benefit from concrete examples for North America. The objectives cited for research going forward (Section 6.10) also appear generic.
- Are the data and analyses handled in a competent manner? Are statistical methods applied appropriately?
The text lacks specification of specific data sets that would contribute to research and analysis of social science aspects of the carbon.
- Are the document’s presentation, level of technicality, and organization effective? Are the questions outlined in the prospectus addressed and communicated in a manner that is appropriate and accessible for the intended audience?
Presentation and technical level are appropriate for the intended audience. However, there are several terms that appear to be in-house terminology, e.g., “systems approach”, “behavioral potentials” (p.260, line 7). In place of these terms, which may not be familiar to the reader, the text should be expanded to briefly explain what is intended. The text should be screened for other examples that may need further definition, and more importantly, further articulation of what the points are.
- What other significant improvements, if any, might be made in the document?
It would be useful to recruit an additional member of the author team who is familiar with the economic literature integrated analysis of the carbon cycle, to help prepare the missing areas of context identified above.
Some issues of concern in the Chapter can be enriched by cross-references to Chapter 7 (Tribal Lands).
This focus on social science perspectives does not fit comfortably within the chapters that focus on the particular sectors and geographical regions where carbon fluxes and stocks are accounted. It may be more appropriately placed toward the end of the report, e.g., between Chapter 18 on support for decision-making and Chapter 19 on future projections.
P254, Line 30-31
Not clear why vulnerability research is an exception.
P255, Line 20
Vague. Be clear what specific theory is referred to.
P255, Line 30
Define systems order policy.
P255, Line 33-35
Statement inappropriately limited to energy sustainability arena.
P256, Line 1-4
Statement is incorrect unless meant to exclude economics research. Please clarify.
P256, Line 19-21
The statement should be qualified in that all of the costs are not intangible.
P257, Line 16-19
It is not true that this research is “defined by short-term policy objectives, or that it ignores the sources of energy use.
P257, Line 33
“Recognized need…” is imprecise. State by whom it is recognized, and based on what evidence?
P258, Line 1 - P260, Line 28
The authors miss an opportunity to make the point that energy appears to be an area where markets do not function as predicted by rational economic behavior, so that much economics analysis has fallen far short of providing understanding and guidance for decision makers.
P258, Line 17-19
Statement is incorrect, and ignores analysis of price elasticity
P258, Line 24-28
Statement is empty unless provide alternative “labels” and explain what is meant by policy perspective and priorities.
P258, Line 37
Not clear what is meant by “regulated energy efficiency industry”. Provide examples to clarify.
P258, Line 31-32
There are no “traditional” definitions of efficiency, but different definitions depending on the context (engineering, economic; energy, labor, all factors).
P259, Line 20
Again, what is the efficiency industry?
P260, Line 29
Multifaceted seems another example of jargon, without meaning in this context.
P262, Line 16-17
Why single out transportation? Industry? Commerce?
P263, Line 12
What is meant by “sustainability” of the carbon cycle? The cycle is not threatened.
P263, Line 26
What alternative organizing force is imagined, to make this a question?
P263, Line 33-35
Not clear what is meant by “engagement with the normative dimensions . . . “
P264, Line 4-7
Potential confusion in the writing: the scenarios are not “tools” but the result of the application of tools.
P264, Line 39-41
Not correct. Vulnerability research covers many other sectors and concerns (e.g., species survival, ecosystem damage).
P265, Line 30-31
Not clear what alternative design is suggested.
P270, Line 35-37
As with P256 / Lines 19-21, the statement should be qualified in that the costs are not all intangible or unknown.