From how likely Americans are to buy an EV to the role of transparency in reducing water pollution and why climate finance is so critical for individual communities, EPIC faculty in 2023 shed new light on some of the most crucial topics in energy and climate. Oftentimes, these insights are best illustrated through data presented in easy-to-digest charts. Here are ten of our favorites from 2023.
#1 – Two in Five Americans Say They are Likely to Purchase an EV, but Major Barriers Remain
With the Biden Administration targeting half of all new vehicles sold in 2030 to be electric or plug-in hybrids, a poll from EPIC/AP-NORC found about 40 percent of Americans are at least somewhat likely to purchase an EV. The bulk of likely future owners are under the age of 45, perhaps signaling a bright future for EVs. However, Americans still cite major barriers to purchasing one, chief among them being the cost. About half are afraid there are not enough charging stations and 40 percent are holding out for the battery technology to improve. Younger Americans named fewer major barriers than older Americans. While about half of 18-29-year-olds still cite cost as a major barrier, only about a third have a major concern about the battery technology not being ready. Just 3 in 10 of those in this younger cohort say they simply prefer gas engines.
#2 – Air Pollution’s Threat to Health and the Resources to Combat It Remain Unequal
Particulate air pollution (PM2.5) remains the world’s greatest external risk to human health, according to EPIC’s latest Air Quality Life Index report. Yet, the countries that are most impacted by air pollution lack the fundamental resources to combat it. Asia and Africa contribute 92.7 percent of life years lost due to pollution. But, just 6.8 and 3.7 percent of governments in Asia and Africa, respectively, provide their citizens with the fully open air quality data needed to encourage action and inform policies. And, while Europe, the United States and Canada—which contribute 4.2 percent of life years lost due to pollution—receive 60.4 percent of philanthropic funds to combat it, China and India receive about half that and the rest of Asia and Africa receive just 3 percent. Africa, in fact, receives philanthropic funding for air pollution equivalent to the average price of a single-family home in the United States.
#3 – Workers Lose Out if they Don’t Migrate Away from Climate-Threatened Regions
#4 – Blocking Pipelines Trades Carbon Reductions for Increases in Local Pollution
Climate advocates often oppose fossil fuel pipelines, arguing for a “keep it in the ground” approach. But EPIC Scholars Ryan Kellogg and Thomas Covert find blocking pipelines can shift those fuels to potentially more polluting transportation modes. In studying what would have happened if the Dakota Access Pipeline had been blocked, they found that 81 percent of the oil would have shifted to being carried by rail. Oil production would have decreased by only 4 percent—thereby reducing CO2 by 26 thousand metric tons per day. But, rail transport poses a large cost to the local environment, increasing local pollution costs by $588,000 per day. An alternative would be to regulate fossil fuel production at its source, costing only a few dollars per tonne of CO2 abated and reducing local pollution from both pipelines and railroads.
#5 – Disclosure of Hydraulic Fracturing Activities Leads to Reduced Pollution
Following local health and environmental concerns in communities surrounding hydraulic fracturing sites, many states began requiring that firms disclose their drilling activities and the chemical composition of their fracking fluids. EPIC Scholar Christian Leuz and his co-authors found that this transparency led to improved water quality. Salt concentrations—which are a signature impact from hydraulic fracturing and in high amounts can stunt human bone development, increase blood pressure, harm aquatic life, and more—declined by as much as 15 percent following disclosure mandates. Consistent with the decline in salt concentrations, the researchers found the firms started using fewer hazardous and chloride-related chemicals in fluids, and there were fewer spills, leaks and other accidents. The researchers also estimated that firms were drilling about 5 percent fewer new wells, contributing to about 14 percent of the decrease in water pollution.
#6 – U.S. Fishing Policy Does Not Hold Back Fishers from Making Their Catch
#7 – Climate Financing Can Hold Off Migration and Encourage Adaptation
As developed nations work to meet “climate finance” pledges to developing countries, UChicago Booth’s Raghuram Rajan demonstrates why financing could be so critical for a community’s ability to adapt and prosper. In studying the United States’ second most severe drought, he finds that drought-stricken counties without access to loans saw more of their residents leave than counties with access to loans: a 6.3 percentage point decline versus a 1.5 percentage point decline in population growth, respectively, over a decade (1950-1960). These effects persisted long after the drought. Counties with more access to loans had a 4.5 percentage point higher population than the counties without access to finance by 1980. The conclusion: With equal access to finance, residents are less likely to migrate to richer places and more likely to stay in their communities and learn to adapt.
#8 – Referral Strategies Lead to More Low-Income Solar Installations
Policies will often provide clean and efficient energy services to low-income households at low or no cost. But even when upfront costs are removed, many don’t participate. EPIC Scholar Kim Wolske and her co-authors worked with the administrator of California’s low-income solar program to increase uptake by encouraging existing participants to refer friends. The program already sent postcards reminding participants they could receive $200 if they referred friends and those friends installed residential solar. When the researchers added a $1 gift to thank clients for being part of the solar community, nearly twice as many made referrals, leading to double the number of solar contracts. Five times more participants made referrals when the researchers added a postmarked referral slip for participants to mail with their friends’ contact information—leading to five times more solar contracts.
#9 – Sea Levels Rising as Much as 2 to 3 Feet Will Put 97 Million People at Risk of Expanding Floods This Century
As Earth’s climate warms, rising seas will impact the world’s dense and diverse coastal regions, according to data from Human Climate Horizons—a collaboration between EPIC’s affiliate Climate Impact Lab and the United Nations Development Programme. At the highest levels of global warming, ocean levels could rise on average by 1.8 feet globally by the end of the century and by as much as two to three feet in some low-lying areas of the world. That includes almost the entire U.S. East Coast and parts of the Gulf Coast like New Orleans. As sea levels rise in this very high emissions scenario, coastal flooding puts more than 97 million people in the path of expanding flood areas by the end of the century. This could trigger a reversal in human development in highly-populated cities like Santos, Brazil, Contonou, Benin, and Kolkata, India, and even permanent loss of significant land in the Caribbean, Oceania and Small Island Developing States.
#10 – The Right Incentives Can Make Dynamic Electricity Pricing Successful
Dynamic electricity pricing—which charges consumers more during peak hours and less during off-peak hours—could encourage consumers to reduce their electricity use. For such a program to succeed, it’s important to not just get consumers to sign up, but to get consumers who will change their behaviors and use less energy in peak hours. Through a field experiment in Japan, EPIC Scholar Koichiro Ito and his co-authors discover that those who are eager to take up the new pricing scheme change their behaviors and reduce peak-time electricity use by up to 1 kWh per hour per household. Those who are reluctant to join do not conserve much (hovering around zero). This is where offering the right financial incentive becomes important: If the take-up incentive is too high it could encourage consumers to join who would not conserve much.