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The Political Economy of Consumption-Driven Climate Pollution


This dissertation consists of three essays that explore the political consequences of confronting the role that developed-world consumption plays in driving climate pollution worldwide. Using underutilized data on the annual consumption of greenhouse gas emissions by country and two original randomized survey experiments, I show that the implications of pollution-as-consumption are consequential for political action to reduce climate change at the international, domestic, and individual levels.

The first essay challenges the notion that international climate agreements can effectively reduce emissions by getting countries to pledge to decrease their emissions production. Using historical data on the annual production and consumption of emissions by country, I show that as countries become wealthier, wealth tends to drive emissions pollution via consumption channels significantly more than via production channels. If these patterns persist, international efforts to curb emissions production will be undermined as long as consumption is left unchecked.

The second essay, co-authored with Robert Trager, explores whether highlighting the role of developed-world consumers in driving global emissions improves domestic support for costly climate policies. We conduct an original large-N survey experiment to show that framing an international climate agreement as a response to this pattern increases the agreement's perceived fairness among U.S. citizens. This has a far greater impact on agreement approval than cost, particularly among Republicans. We also find approval is increased by bipartisan support and information on the future financial cost of uncontrolled climate change.

The final essay, co-authored with J.R. DeShazo and Tamara Sheldon, considers U.S. consumers themselves and the role that political identity plays in shaping willingness to pay for sustainable products. Using an innovative large-N experiment involving actual consumer purchases, we show that while liberal consumers are more willing to pay for an energy-efficient product when it is marketed as good for reducing climate change or saving money, conservative consumers can be induced to a similar willingness to pay for the same product when it is marketed as good for U.S. energy independence, a cause that better reflects conservative values. Our findings suggest that political identity shapes consumer behavior and can be leveraged to promote more sustainable consumption.

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