Experiment 1: We designed a petition (as a survey study), calling for energy reform, moving away from fossil-based energy to renewables—such as the wind, hydro, solar, nuclear, and thermal energy. This would be funded by either an increase in sales tax by one percent to subsidize fossil-based energy producers to adopt other technology or charging fossil-based energy producers with the carbon tax (ten percent), and then subsidizing the producers who want to generate other energy sources.
The experimental method includes four petitions (one control group and three treatment groups). We have designed four different survey links for each group, which was sent via email. Since the approved target population is twelve thousand faculty, staff, and students at Georgia State University, we randomly assigned three thousand to each group in such a way that six thousand would be randomly selected from the faculty and staff pool, and six thousand from the students’ pool. In the survey, after asking some general information such as gender, income level, native or non-native to the US, and occupation, we provided the information about the effect of the carbon emission on the environment and human lives, including the carbon reduction by switching energy-based fuels.
The survey contains energy usage—based on types—in the US at the national level. More than eighty percent of the US energy consumption is supplied by fossil-based energy, which produces more than 15 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide. The forests required to sequester the produced carbon every year in the US is more than 15 times of the existing forests in the US. Carbon emissions from coal are about 25 times more than solar PV to produce the same amount to generate electricity; and more than double about natural gas; and still around one-fifth of the total energy produces by coal because it is marginally cheaper and available, excluding the environmental damages it causes.
The US uses more fossil fuel than European countries, but less than China . Therefore, by providing energy information about the countries that are utilizing more clean energy compared to the US, we hoped to nudge households to support clean energy adaptation. Thus, in the first treatment, we added the comparison between European countries and the United States as a descriptive norm in which the US uses about 82 percent of her energy from fossil fuel resources. In contrast, this number is around 45 percent for European countries. The second norm is the comparison between the US and China, while China allocates 89 percent of her energy needs from fossil fuel-based resources. Since China uses more fossil-based energy, it might be useful to verify the possible downturn effect of the social norm; in this case, people might think there is another country which is worse when concerning the environment. Participants would ask: “why should we care?” And the third is the comparison between the US, European countries, and China, all together, to verify the impact of the full exposure of the information. At the end of the petition, we asked participants if they are willing to sign the petition or not; if they agreed to sign, then we would follow with another question, asking whether they prefer sales tax increment or carbon tax reform on fossil-based energy producers to cover the costs. While the first treatment would directly affect the household’s costs, the latter increases individual’s living costs indirectly.
The purpose of this design is to test two hypotheses. The first hypothesis is whether providing additional information on country energy consumption—as a descriptive norm—can influence the households’ decision to support a petition in favor of clean energy . The second hypothesis is having the households’ support for subsidizing clean energy. The respondents would choose the carbon tax rather than the sales tax. Revealing this hypothesis may enlighten legislators to proceed to provide the required resources for such subsidy—by imposing a carbon tax on energy producers which indirectly impact the consumers’ consumption prices, instead of increasing a sales tax which directly affects the prices. We speculate that the respondents would choose the carbon tax rather than the sales tax since they comprehend the immediate price effect. We think it would be crucial if the subjects believe that it is not a hypothetical survey and have actual impacts. Therefore, we included a paragraph in the petition that states that we plan to submit the outcome of this petition to Governor Deal. Since there is a high-cost associated with the petition, we thought that less likely people would sign it. This assumption gives me a powerful tool (since subjects realized that engaging this activity comes with the costs) to identify the effectiveness of social behavior.
Experiment 2: The first experiment was performed at the university level—where respondents achieved a higher education compared to the average individuals in the US. A more plausible extension of this work could be a field experiment executed outside a university campus, where subjects’ educational attainment would not be upwardly biased, and therefore, the results would be a better prediction of the society’s aggregate understandings and willingness to participate in environmentally friendly reforms. Another challenge that should be taken into account in a similar study is that a survey must design in such a way that can isolate any respondents’ prior beliefs about the compared countries versus US to unbiasedly determine any treatment effects that arise from providing new information on energy concepts.
Based on the results of the pilot study, we found three major caveats: First, the analysis was under-power; second, there was an educational bias since the surveys were distributed at the university level (among faculty, staff, and students); and third, subjects prior beliefs/judgments about other countries (possibly) made the norms ineffective. In the current experiment, we try to correct for those as follow:
Instead of having three treatment groups (and a control group), we plan to reduce it to two treatment groups. We will collect the data among a general population across different states and regions. We can also provide some incentives for the respondents to participate. Instead of country-level comparison, we intend to perform a state-level comparison. We also want to add a question about their political affiliation to control for possible prior beliefs. We intend to execute the same experiment—at the same time—in two different states, one Democrat and one Republican, but the same region, and with the same geographical boundaries. We selected Arizona (as a red state) and New Mexico (as a blue state). Arizona uses 9 percent of her energy as renewable, and New Mexico utilizes only 8 percent. To control even more about subjects’ judgment about the norm, we plan to compare the energy use from each of the selected states, with two different pioneer states in using renewable, one blue, and one red, with the same percentage usage. We chose South Dakota with 38 percentage and Maine with 36. Hopefully, with the current design, we can rule out the subjects’ preferences and beliefs about the states they are going to compare with. And this time, we are not going to test the possible downturn effect of the social norm, so we would not compare the targeted states with the ones which use less renewable energy. And also, at the end of the petition, we will not ask participants to choose the channel of subsidy (carbon tax versus sales tax); only provide these two mechanisms as possible resources to serve the purpose.
In general, all the surveys contain energy usage—based on types—in the US at the national level. Using the results of the pilot study, we can carry out a relevant power analysis to compute the required sample size for such an experiment with two treatment groups and a control group (three treatments in total). The total sample displays the number of the required respondents in both compared groups. The alpha (α) represents the Type I error, and the power shows the one minus Type II error (1-β) in this statistical test. The table below shows the power analysis of the different comparisons among the three survey groups, based on the pilot study (T1-3 are for the different treatment groups). In this analysis, the percentage of the respondents in the control group who would sign the petition is considered 63%, while the amount is 78% for the first treatment and 56% for the second treatment. Based on our calculation, the total required number of the observations should be equal to 1022 for both T1 & T3 (511 each), and 94 to T2 (the largest number associate with T2 is 188, which includes both T1 and T2, where half goes to T2); therefore, the required subjects for each state would be: 1,116, which makes the total equal to 2,232.