Raymond S. Nickerson, Neville P. Moray
THE PROBLEM OF ENVIRONMENTAL CHANGE
The subject of detrimental environmental change has received much attention in the news media for some time. Scientists, policy makers, and the public have become increasingly concerned about the threat that such change, if it continues unabated, poses for the future. Growing numbers of scientists from a variety of disciplines have been systematically studying specific aspects of this change and attempting to identify effective strategies for preventing or mitigating potentially catastrophic effects.
Human factors researchers have not focused much attention on this area in the past. Perhaps it has been assumed that the discipline has little to offer toward the solution of environmental problems. We believe it does have something to offer. This chapter represents an effort to stimulate and contribute to a dialogue that will help identify what some of the possibilities are.
Dimensions of the Problem
Some earth and atmospheric scientists have been documenting an increased concentration of carbon dioxide and other "greenhouse gases" in the atmosphere and have been attempting to better understand how a continuing accumulation will affect the future world climate (Houghton and Woodwell, 1989; National Research Council, 1983). Others have been studying
such phenomena as "acid rain" and its effects on lakes and streams, forests, and materials (Baker et al., 1991; Mohnen, 1988; Schwartz, 1989), air pollution and urban smog (Gray and Alson, 1989; National Research Council, 1991; Office of Technology Assessment, 1988), and the thinning of ozone in the stratosphere (Stolarski et al., 1992; Stolarski, 1988). Studies have focused on the contamination and depletion of fresh-water supplies (la Riviere, 1989; National Research Council, 1977; Postel, 1985), on the depletion of the world's forests (Myers, 1989; Repetto, 1990) and wetlands (Steinhart, 1990; Wallace, 1985), and on the worldwide loss of arable land (Crossen and Rosenberg, 1989; National Research Council, 1990; Schlesinger et al., 1990). Biologists have been documenting the loss of wildlife habitat and the accompanying decrease in biodiversity (Soule, 1991; Wilson, 1989). More detailed discussions of the many facets of the problem are readily available (Gore, 1992; Nickerson, 1992; Stern et al., 1992).
Behavioral Causes of Environmental Change
Many of the most readily identified causes of these changes are human activities. Major contributors to the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere include the burning of fossil fuels for heating and energy generation and the use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) as coolants and aerosols. The burning of fossil fuels is also a major cause of acid rain, which is formed when airborne sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides combine with water vapor. Air pollutants include ozone, carbon monoxide, lead, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and particulates—all by-products of industrial and energy-generation processes. Stratospheric ozone thinning is believed to be a direct consequence of the accumulation of CFCs in the upper atmosphere.
Major threats to clean, fresh-water supplies include contamination not only from precipitation of chemical emissions that have accumulated in the atmosphere but also from agricultural runoff containing pesticides and fertilizers, from waste discharges into rivers, from salt used for highway deicing, from hazardous wastes disposed of improperly, and from leachate from municipal dumps. Deforestation is the consequence both of converting forests to farmland and residential and business areas and of overharvesting timber. Wetland loss results from the "reclamation" of wetlands for commercial development. Desertification, the transformation of arable land into land on which crops will no longer grow, has a variety of causes, including overgrazing and the salinization of soil from excessive irrigation.
Since the human activities that are implicated in detrimental environmental change are aimed at satisfying human needs and desires, those activities can only be expected to increase as the population grows. And population growth, worldwide, is expected to continue for the near future at
least, at something like its current rate, which would yield a doubling of the current number of about 6 billion before the middle of the twenty-first century. Moreover, if present trends continue, the pressures on the environment are likely to grow faster than the population. During the twentieth century, worldwide energy consumption has increased by a factor of about 15 and the total population has increased by a factor of about 3.5, which is to say that, compared with 1900, there are about 3.5 times as many of us now and each of us uses, on average, 4 times as much energy (Gibbons et al., 1989). There is now an enormous disparity between the per capita use of energy in the industrialized world and in developing countries; we can expect that the desire of the developing countries to close this gap will create a strong impetus to increase the average use worldwide.
In short, there is much evidence that human behavior can adversely affect the natural environment in a variety of ways and that the forces that motivate environmentally detrimental behavior are likely to become even stronger in the future. There is a need to better understand the coupling of behavior and environmental change and how to mitigate the undesirable effects.
POSSIBLE APPROACHES TO THE PROBLEM
The problem of detrimental environmental change is broad in scope and considerably beyond the ability of the human factors research community to solve. But human factors researchers can contribute greatly by working toward the goal of finding effective ways to modify, or mitigate the effects of, the human behavior that is a major cause of such change. It is useful to make a distinction between attempting to modify behavior directly and attempting to modify it indirectly by changing technology so that its use will be less detrimental to the environment.
Direct Behavioral Change
Possible ways to directly induce behavioral change include the use of coercion (legislation and regulation, backed up with the threat of civil or criminal sanctions), incentives (tax and other monetary incentives, public recognition, and awards), education (making people aware of problems and what can be done about them), and persuasion (appeals to moral responsibility or altruism—or the possibility of embarrassment or shame). All of these methods have been tried, many times in some cases, and in numerous variations.
Psychologists have done a considerable amount of research to assess the effectiveness of various strategies for behavior modification in the context of environmental concerns (Holahan, 1986; Russell and Ward, 1982;
Saegert and Winkel, 1990; Stern, 1992). Illustrative of this work are studies of the use of incentives, rewards, education and information campaigns, persuasion, and other techniques to motivate conservation in the use of energy or water, participation in recycling programs, decrease in waste generation and littering, and other behavior that would be desirable for environmental preservation (Baum and Singer, 1981; Coach et al., 1979; Cone and Hayes, 1980; Geller et al., 1982; Geller, 1986). This work has demonstrated that behavior can be changed with the use of incentives and other types of inducements, but the changes that have been effected have been modest in magnitude and have tended not to persist much beyond the duration of the experimental intervention.
Without questioning the need to continue this line of research, we note that behavior modification is not the only approach that can be taken to the problem of detrimental environmental change. Moreover, even assuming that much more effective means of changing behavior in desired ways will be discovered than have so far been found, it may be unrealistic to expect the problem to be solved by this approach alone. Effective and lasting behavior modification has proven very difficult to achieve. Efforts to effect behavioral change are unlikely to be very successful so long as the technologies and the products of technology that we use make it easy to behave in environmentally harmful ways (Crabb, 1992).
One may work on the goal of water conservation by trying to persuade people to use less water when taking showers by, say, taking shorter showers, keeping the tap less than wide open, or keeping the tap closed while actually washing. Alternatively, or in conjunction with efforts to change behavior, one can attempt to design shower heads that automatically conserve water by limiting the flow when the tap is fully open but that still provide adequate water for showering. Ideally, one would like a water-miser shower head whose spray is preferred by users, who then will be motivated to use this head whether or not they are concerned about environmental change.
Finding ways to change the technology so that it is equally effective, if not more so, while doing less harm to the environment is a complementary alternative to attempting to modify behavior directly. This is the motivation for the concerted efforts to develop environmentally benign alternatives to the burning of fossil fuels for energy generation and for many other current research activities in the physical and biological sciences.
We wish to argue that human factors research has much to contribute to the goal of shaping technology so that the natural consequences of its use for human ends will be more environmentally benign.
HUMAN FACTORS AND ENVIRONMENTAL CHANGE
To date, human factors, as a profession, has not focused much on the problem of environmental change, at least as that problem is conceived here. What is sometimes referred to as "environmental ergonomics" has tended to focus on how one's immediate environment—temperature, humidity, noisiness—affects one's bodily and cognitive functions and performance. The interests of the Human Factors Society's Technical Group on Environmental Design (Human Factors Society, 1991:38), for example, "center on the human factors aspects of the constructed physical environment, including architectural and interior design aspects of home, office, and industrial settings." The Applied Experimental and Engineering Psychology issue of PsycSCAN has "environment" as one of six major topics under which the abstracts are organized. But each of the 12 subtopics in this section deals with the effects of some environmental factor (altitude, heat, noise) on human beings (performance, safety, or comfort). In general, the subject of the implications of human behavior for environmental change—as distinct from the effects of environmental variables on human behavior—has not been a focus of attention of the human factors community.
There is one major exception: the interest the field has shown in studying industrial accidents and near accidents, especially in the nuclear power industry, and in developing ways to decrease the probability and severity of such accidents (Reason, 1990; Senders and Moray, 1991). With this exception, most of what psychologists have done that relates directly to the problem of detrimental environmental change has not been done within the mainstream of human factors research, and the results of that work have not been published in the journals most strongly associated with human factors research. The problem of environmental change has not captured the imagination of the human factors research community as a whole.
As to why this is the case, we can only speculate. One possibility is that human factors researchers believe they have little to offer in this area. We think that human factors does have something to offer, and the main purpose of this chapter is to make that point.
Another possibility is that human factors researchers have assumed that the best way for the discipline to address the problem of environmental change is indirectly, through work on more generic problems, such as the design of displays, of person-machine interfaces, of work situations, and so on.
This view has considerable merit. When one designs a better interface for a computer system, or when one discovers and articulates principles that can help designers produce interfaces that are better suited to human use, one is facilitating the work of anyone who uses systems with these interfaces, including earth and atmospheric scientists working on the problem of
global warming, modelers developing source-receptor models for predicting the dispersion of sulfur dioxide emissions, and agronomists attempting to balance variables in a plan for a sustainable-agriculture approach to the production of crops.
Similarly, when one designs an information-management system—or discovers characteristics of human beings as information processors that have implications for the design of such a system—one is contributing indirectly to the work of anyone who makes use of such a system, including a variety of people working on environmental problems. Just as it is not necessary for the materials scientist to have the building of better automobiles in mind in order to affect the automotive industry—by, for example, developing a new lightweight superstrong composite—one need not focus explicitly on the environment in order to have a beneficial impact on work on environmental problems.
This being said, we believe it is important to raise the question of whether there are opportunities for the human factors community to make more direct and explicit contributions to work on the problem of environmental change than it has done in the past. A major purpose of this chapter is to stimulate thought and discussion about this question.
We believe that the extremely important problem of detrimental environmental change represents a major challenge and opportunity for human factors research and that such research has something of value to contribute, especially when it is directed to the question of how technology might be developed so as to serve its human purposes without affording the means of environmental degradation.
In what follows, we suggest a few specific research questions that we believe deserve attention from the human factors community. We focus primarily on problems that fit reasonably well within human factors, as defined by the work that has traditionally been done in this field. The possibilities become more numerous when one considers problems that fall within the domain of applied psychology, broadly defined.
We offer our suggestions not as an agenda for research but as points of departure for further discussion. The most pressing need in this area is for human factors researchers who are concerned about environmental change to begin exchanging ideas about the problem and how the human factors profession might help address it. We believe that such discussion would identify many ways in which the community can productively involve itself in this important area.
Energy Production and Use
The production and use of energy effect environmental change through the methods used to extract energy sources from the earth, through the depletion of natural resources, and through the by-products of energy transduction and utilization. The per capita demands for energy vary greatly in different parts of the world. Not surprisingly, they are much greater in countries that are highly industrialized than in those that are not, but even within the industrialized world, there are large differences in energy use. There is a need to better understand why these differences exist. Some, but not all, of the difference can be attributed to differences in industrial productivity and in standards of living. There is a growing sense that attitudes—about efficiency and waste, about public versus private transportation, about personal conveniences and the public good—are important factors in the equation, but their role is not well understood.
There are numerous specific questions relating to energy use and environmental change that deserve the attention of human factors researchers. What determines when working from home or a satellite office can be an acceptable, if not a preferred, alternative to commuting to a centralized workplace? Under what conditions can teleconferencing be effectively substituted for face-to-face meetings? How can the effectiveness and acceptability of teleconferencing systems be increased?
As we noted earlier, human factors professionals have involved themselves in energy generation and use primarily by studying human error in power plant operations and developing methods to decrease the probability of mishaps and the potential severity of their effects. This research is of undoubted importance and should continue to be priority.
Improving Public Transportation Facilities
The personal automobile is, by far, the preferred mode of travel in the United States (Gray and Alson, 1989). This is due to a number of factors, but chiefly to the great convenience of the private auto, compared with other types of transportation in many parts of the country. Using private autos, however, puts a greater burden on the environment than does using public mass transit. An environmentally beneficial objective, therefore, is to enhance the attractiveness of public transportation so that it will more often be the preferred means of transport, especially in major urban areas.
This is, in part at least, a human factors problem. We need to better understand why people choose the modes of transportation they do when other modes are also available. Such knowledge could be applied to making public transportation more attractive, and, to the extent that the preference for private transportation is based on a lack of understanding of the pros
and cons of the alternatives, it could be used to guide programs aimed at informing the public in this regard.
Substituting Resource-Light for Resource-Heavy Technologies
To the extent that needed or desired services can be provided by technologies that make relatively light demands on energy and other resources, the interests of environmental preservation will be well served by using such technologies. In particular, when the transmission of information can be substituted for the transportation of people and material, the environment benefits in a variety of ways.
Finding ways to substitute resource-light technologies for resource-heavy technologies is especially desirable in view of the rapidly increasing demands that underdeveloped countries are expected to put on resources by attempting to catch up, economically, with the more developed parts of the world (Stern et al., 1992). To the extent that these countries could be enabled to adopt energy-and resource-efficient methods of delivering desired goods and services, without first appropriating inefficient methods that have been utilized in much of the industrialized world, the benefits would be global as well as regional.
Telecommuting and Teleconferencing
Telecommunications technology has the potential to make it possible for more people to work, at least part of the time, from their homes rather than commute to offices. It also has the potential, via teleconferencing facilities, to reduce the need for travel to meetings. Although these possibilities were recognized by the earliest promoters of teleconferencing and telecommuting (Bavelas et al., 1963; Nilles et al., 1976), they have not yet been realized as much as might have been expected. Why that is so is not entirely clear, but there can be no doubt that many human factors issues are involved in the question of how to make these technologies attractive and effective from the user's point of view.
Electronic Substitutes for Paper
Substituting electronic means of storing and distributing information for methods that depend on the use of paper is one instance of the substitution of resource-light for resource-heavy technologies that deserves special attention. Paper and paper products account for about one-third of all solid waste in the United States. A considerable fraction of paper waste is from newspapers (whose daily circulation is about 63 million according to the Bureau of the Census, 1990) and magazines. Given that most buyers of
newspapers are interested in only a fraction of the information that is in them, that buyers discard newspapers immediately after reading them, and that printing and distributing them are energy-intensive processes, this method of information distribution is extremely inefficient relative to technologically feasible alternatives. Similar observations apply to magazines.
Despite many predictions that less paper would be used as a result of the increasing use of electronic information exchange systems, there is little evidence of any such reduction. It may even be that computer technology has stimulated the use of more paper than ever before. Nevertheless, the potential remains for decreasing the use of paper by making more effective use of electronic information storage and distribution. Significantly realizing this potential would have the doubly beneficial effect of conserving the energy and natural resources used in the production of paper and of reducing the generation of solid waste.
The technology exists for distributing news and information electronically rather than in traditional newspapers and magazines; to date, however, that technology is not sufficiently widely installed in homes to be a feasible basis for replacing paper media. It seems highly likely, however, that in the not-distant future most homes will have the means of making electronic newspapers and magazines practical. There are likely to be nontechnical obstacles to their acceptance and use by the public, stemming from the fact that video displays, even if made to look something like a book, are very different from the types of print media with which people are familiar. It would be useful to know what would make electronic books, newspapers, and periodicals acceptable to people as replacements for their paper counterparts.
This is not to suggest that realization of the potential of information technology for reducing the need for paper awaits only a better understanding of the psychological deterrents to the use of electronic media. The practical usability and the actual use of communication facilities also depend on the existence of an adequate infrastructure, pricing policies that provide incentives for use, and general access to the critical facilities. User acceptability, however, is likely to be a key determinant of the extent to which this technology is appropriated when other impediments to its exploitation no longer apply.
Simulation and Virtual Reality Technology
Other special cases of substituting resource-light for resource-heavy technologies involve the use of simulated aspects of reality for a variety of purposes. Simulators have been used for flight training for many years. This was motivated in part by safety considerations, and in part by the fact that operating a simulator is much less expensive than operating real aircraft
for training purposes. A major reason is that it requires less expenditure of energy and other resources, a fact that benefits the environment as well.
The development and use of SIMNET, the army's simulation system for training tank teams, illustrates what is possible by way of network-based systems that are capable of simulating situations involving many people and machines interacting in complex ways (Thorpe, 1993). A SIMNET-based training exercise is not only much less expensive than a comparable exercise involving real tanks but also much easier on the environment. How to ensure the effectivenss of this approach to team training remains a challenge.
Virtual reality technology carries simulation, in theory at least, to a new plateau. The goal of developing this technology is to simulate objects and situations in such a way that people can perceive and interact with the simulated realities very much as they would with whatever it is that is simulated, except without the inconvenience or, sometimes, the danger that would be involved in interacting with the real thing. There are many human factors questions relating to the development and use of virtual reality technology that represent challenges for research; the National Research Council has completed a study of some of these questions (Durlach and Mavor, 1995).
Recycling and Waste Handling
Improving the Technology of Recycling
Recycling of waste materials is a relatively new technology. It seems reasonable to assume that, as with any new technology, its effectiveness and efficiency could be improved. In particular, inasmuch as the energy required for some recycling operations limits their utility (Georgescu-Roegen, 1976), there is a need to find more efficient methods for processing recyclable materials, for example, new ways to separate trash into unrecyclable and the several recyclable categories and new ways to transform the recyclable types into reusable materials.
A major problem of waste recycling is getting sustained citizen participation in recycling programs (Geller et al., 1982). Education and advertising campaigns have not been very effective (Coach et al., 1979; Geller et al., 1975). Efforts to motivate people to recycle have sometimes met with modest short-term success but have not managed to effect lasting change (Geller, 1987; Humphrey et al., 1977). And in some cases, simple positive reinforcement schemes have even produced unwanted behavior (Geller, 1981). Planning and executing recycling programs that will effect the lasting changes in attitudes and behavior that are essential to make real progress on the problem of waste remains a significant unmet challenge.
Radioactive and Toxic Waste Handling
Radioactive and toxic wastes represent special problems and require some innovative approaches. Given that about a dozen U.S. nuclear reactors are ready for decommissioning now and about 50 will be ready for retirement in the Western world before the end of the century (Shulman, 1989), the problem of handling nuclear wastes will be getting much more attention than it has in the past. Because very few nuclear reactors have yet been dismantled, the technology for this undertaking is still being developed.
Much attention will be focused on the cleanup of the Hanford site in the state of Washington, where weapons-grade radioactive materials have been produced since the days of the Manhattan Project in the early 1940s. This cleanup project alone is planned to take 30 years to complete. It is also expected to require resolution of many human factors issues. Among these will be issues having to do with the design of control facilities for a vitrification plant in which liquid wastes will be solidified and issues relating to the design and use of tele-operator systems for remote handling of radioactive materials. Because of the industry's limited experience with dismantling and cleanup operations, there will need to be some innovative thinking about the allocation of functions to people and machines and the design of person-machine interfaces for this purpose (Wise and Savage, 1992).
Designing for Error Prevention
Human error is known to be a major cause of industrial accidents. The accident at Chernobyl occurred because of an interaction of poor plant design, poor management decisions, and violations of procedures (Reason, 1990). The Bhopal incident was caused by a combination of operator error, poor training, and bad policies, including the policy of storing large quantities of hazardous materials, thus increasing the chances that an accident, should it occur, would be on a very large scale (Hazarika, 1986). At Three Mile Island, inadequacies in training, operating procedures, control room interface design, and maintenance practice were all seen to be contributing factors. More generally, analyses of industrial accidents have revealed a great variety of human errors—in system design, regulation, operation, maintenance, communication and management (Rasmussen and Batstone, 1989; Reason, 1990).
Inasmuch as industrial accidents can have—and have had—serious environmental consequences, work on the problem of designing industrial control stations and operating procedures so as to minimize the possibility of human error is very much in the spirit of what this chapter is intended to promote. The most difficult challenge here is to identify vulnerable points in an industrial process before any disastrous errors occur. Although the
occurrence of a disaster should always be a stimulus to research on how to prevent a recurrence, the greatly preferred objective is to prevent the initial disaster from happening. Unfortunately, the successful prevention of accidents of a type that has never occurred is likely to go unrecognized; until an accident has happened, people tend to be unaware of its possibility.
It has become increasingly evident that the traditional ergonomics of control room design is insufficient to prevent large-scale accidents. Accidents occur because of complex interactions among people at all levels of an organization and between people and plant hardware; they occur despite regulations, training, and operating procedures that are intended to minimize accident potential. Attitudinal variables may play a more important role than has been realized. Management's interest in developing a ''safety culture" within a company plant is also a key factor. To understand the causes of accidents and how to prevent them, we need to understand the psychology of a system in its entirety, from the ergonomics of design to the social dynamics of "whistle blowing."
Automation is sometimes seen as a solution to the problem of human error because it removes human operators from the scene. But automation does not necessarily reduce the probability or severity of accidents. When highly skilled operators are removed from an industrial system, the system sometimes loses the protection against design errors that the workers' skill may provide, and the hazardous implications of those design errors may be very difficult to discover before an actual incident. In automated systems, the day-to-day role of humans tends to be the performance of maintenance, and we know that accidents can occur because of faulty maintenance. Zuboff (1988) has described how automation, if not introduced in an appropriate way, can reduce quality of performance.
Designing for Longevity, Recyclability, and Disposability
Safety and usability have long been major objectives of human factors engineers in equipment design. Other objectives that have implications for the management of environmental change include maintainability, repairability, recyclability, and disposability. Such design objectives should increase in importance if environmental issues become of greater concern. The special challenge to human factors is to find ways to satisfy the environmentally oriented objectives without compromising the traditional focus on user safety and convenience.
NEED FOR NEW PERSPECTIVES
Human factors concepts and methods can be applied to societal problems at many levels. One aid to thinking in these terms is the abstraction
hierarchy proposed by Rasmussen (1986; see his Figure 4.1). At the lowest level of this hierarchy the focus is on "physical form." Examples of the application of ergonomic design at this level include switches that cannot be turned the wrong way, toilet handles that make it easy to use different amounts of water following urination or defecation (a design that is common in Australia where there is a chronic water shortage), and the interlock that requires one to cover the gas tank filler hole with a cap in some states so as to reduce vapor loss to the environment.
At Rasmussen's next level, "physical function," the emphasis is on localized systems. Designing for energy efficiency and resource conservation is a possibility at this level. An electrical system that automatically turns lights off when a room is unoccupied is one example of such a system. A central heating system that (except when overridden by manual control) adjusts temperature in different parts of a house according to patterns of use is another.
The next level, "general form," would include things like automated guideways for automobile traffic in specific locations and intelligent navigation systems that can reduce fuel consumption by optimizing travel routes. A fourth level, "generalized function," would include the design of complete living and communication systems, including ''smart houses." At this level the application of information technology has the potential to change in fundamental ways how people work, travel, communicate, and live.
The top level concerns relatively global problems and goals—the control of global climate change would be a case in point. At this level, issues of politics, ethics, and perhaps philosophical or religious beliefs are likely to be encountered. (Several articles in Science in the 1960s cited instances in which people were given tractors and other equipment that would enable them to produce two harvests a year or to till more land; the advantages did not follow, because the dominant view in the culture was that fate, not technology, determines the provision of life's necessities). Difficulties occur because sometimes measures would benefit one country or region of the world at the expense of others. Ethical complications arise because people have different ideas about such questions as the moral responsibility of human beings toward other species and of this generation to future generations.
We have sketched Rasmussen's taxonomy here to make the point that different levels of problems require different kinds of approaches. This fact should be recognized in any consideration of how human factors might be applied to the problem of detrimental environmental change and the host of subsidiary problems that it subsumes. Traditionally, human factors has dealt primarily with problems at the level of the design of specific devices and person-machine systems. This will continue to be important, and such efforts can have significant environmental implications. There is, however,
also a need to broaden the perspective and to attempt to find ways to address problems at more general and global levels.
PREDICTING THE BEHAVIORAL EFFECTS OF INTERVENTIONS
A generic problem is the difficulty of predicting the effects of efforts to change human behavior in the interest of environmental preservation, either directly or through the modification of technology. Actual effects often turn out to be different from what was desired. This point is illustrated by the consequences of some efforts to modify traffic patterns. Bypasses and beltways have been built to take traffic away from congested streets by providing alternative routes so that drivers do not have to go through the center of the city. Sometimes, however, these have increased traffic not just in the existing areas of congestion but in new areas as well. The provision of new roads has encouraged more people to drive into the city, and the appearance of large, empty roads has stimulated the development of housing to make use of them.
Highway safety provides another example of how an effort to reduce an undesirable effect of human behavior can itself have unanticipated consequences for human behavior. When antilock brakes were put into cars, the assumption that driving safety would be improved was sufficiently credible that insurance premiums were reduced for automobiles with this feature. Empirical evidence gathered by a taxi company in Munich indicated no significant decrease in accident frequency but a significant increase in driving speed (there is no speed limit on the autobahn) and in speed changes (Aschenbrenner et al., 1986). Apparently, people drove faster because they believed their braking systems were safer and that as drivers they would be able to cope more effectively with emergencies. As a result of this study, insurance implications were reconsidered.
The general problem was discussed in terms of cybernetic theory almost 40 years ago by Ashby (1956). The problem involves whether to treat self-organizing systems as deterministic or stochastic. It is very difficult to predict how a complex system will evolve if it has many self-organizing characteristics; this complicates the task of the planning of interventions involving such systems. "Self-organizing" here does not imply a conscious or purposive response by the system to the inputs of the planners; it simply connotes a system for which the list of states that can be entered changes suddenly and "spontaneously" from time to time or a system in which the transition probabilities from one state to another are not constant. In general, very large, complex, and tightly coupled systems with many subsystems
show such self-organizing properties in response to disturbances, and such results may not be predictable, even stochastically (Moray, 1963).
From the above examples, one might draw the conclusion that the effects of countermeasures identified from a causal analysis may be offset by the effects of boundary-seeking human adaptation. The implication, for present purposes, is that anyone attempting to make design changes in a person-machine system to compensate for a pattern of behavior with undesirable environmental consequences should be aware that the design changes may evoke unantipated changes in human behavior that could also have undesirable environmental consequences. This problem deserves more study than it has received; it is especially important for efforts to modify human behavior that harms the environment.
Many of the most troublesome aspects of environmental change are the direct consequence of human behavior, so it is appropriate that changing that behavior should be high on the list of goals for any program of environmental preservation. But behavior is seldom changed significantly or for very long simply in response to scolding, admonishment, pleading, or even rational explanation of why change is required. Describing what the environment could be in 100 years has little effect on people who feel little or no responsibility toward unborn generations. Systems must be designed that make it difficult to behave in ways that will make things worse.
We have focused here on how human factors research might contribute to shaping technology so that the natural consequences of its use for human ends will be more environmentally benign. We have pointed to a few examples of the kinds of specific research issues that should be addressed. Human factors research can be applied to the goal of reversing undesirable trends in environmental change in other ways as well. It can help extend our understanding of how human behavior causes environmental change; and it can contribute to the development of more effective tools for use in the study of environmental change; and it can help assess the effectiveness of efforts to modify undesirable current trends. Finally, it may be able to contribute in ways that will become clear only when a significant number of human factors researchers turn their attention to this area.
A major challenge for the design of environmentally benign systems is inducing people to see constraints less as constraints than as ways to afford something else. The constraint that we all drive on the same side of the road is recognized as an opportunity for safe travel. The constraint on the voltages available in domestic power supplies is an opportunity for safe and efficient use of appliances. Often, however, when constraints are introduced for safety or health purposes, people react negatively to what they
see as encroachments on their freedom of choice. Mandatory seat-belt and motorcycle-helmet laws have sometimes been repealed despite conclusive evidence that seat-belt and helmet use prevents death and serious injury on the highways. Laws prohibiting smoking in public places encountered enormous initial resistance despite the evidence that smoking, including breathing secondhand smoke, is injurious to health. Dealing effectively with these kinds of issues is, at least in part, a human factors problem.
Detrimental environmental change is becoming perceived, by both the scientific community and the general public, as one of the most serious problems that is now faced—and that will continue to be faced for the foreseeable future—not only by individual nations but by the world as a whole. Because this problem has global implications, it should present unusual opportunities for international collaboration among researchers in many countries. If such collaboration is to be effective, the researchers must acquire some new skills and perspectives. It is not safe to assume that what works in one country or culture will work equally well in another. We must learn how to collaborate effectively if we are to have any hope of making real headway on problems that are global in extent. Otherwise, we run the risk of designing the behavioral analogs of very tall smokestacks and exporting various forms of cultural acid rain to other cultures in our efforts to help our own society.
A considerable amount of human factors research has addressed the question of how environmental variables affect human performance; however, the problem of environmental deterioration has not been a prominent focus of human factors research. Human factors, as a discipline, has much to offer to efforts to find solutions to various aspects of this problem. And the problem is sufficiently urgent that even a small probability of making a useful contribution justifies the attempt.
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