MSU awarded grant to study renewable energy adoption in Michigan

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“Michigan State University (MSU) has been awarded close to $1 million from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for a five-year study of renewable energy options using a cross-disciplinary research approach in eight Michigan communities, including two Native American communities.

The project, “Socio-Technological System Transitions: Michigan Community and Anishinaabe Renewable Energy Sovereignty,” will use community-engaged research to collect and analyze local renewable energy risks, barriers and opportunities that can help with decision making and future transitions to renewable energy systems.

This research crosses academic disciplines in the MSU colleges of Agriculture and Natural Resources and Arts and Letters. The principal investigator (PI) is Doug Bessette, assistant professor in the MSU Department of Community Sustainability. Project co-PIs are Laura Schmitt Olabisi, associate professor in the Department of Community Sustainability; Kristin Arola, associate professor in the MSU Department of Writing, Rhetoric and American Cultures; and Christie Poitra, interim director of the MSU Native American Institute (NAI). Arola and Poitra are also affiliate faculty members in American Indian and Indigenous Studies program at MSU.”




Improving decision making for carbon management initiatives

This paper by Victoria Campbell-Arvai, Lisa Kenney, Joe Arvai and I reviews five challenges faced during decision making about carbon management initiatives. The first of these challenges deals with behavioral and perceptual obstacles, which often leads to the introduction of systematic biases during decision making. The remaining four obstacles deal with the complexity associated with the carbon management problems themselves. These include neglecting the objectives and related measurement criteria, which will guide decisions among competing risk management options; the tendency to look for singular solutions to complex problems, rather than considering a broad array of options; a lack of explicit attention devoted to the full range of trade-offs that should be considered when choosing among alternatives; and a failure to recognize that preferences, and the decisions that result from them, are fundamentally constructive in nature. We conclude by outlining a decision-aiding approach that has been shown to improve the quality of decisions about carbon management.


Petra Nova, Texas, USA


Campbell-Arvai Bessette et al Improving decision making for carbon management initiatives

An online decision support tool to evaluate ecological weed management strategies

Weeds remain the most commonly cited concern of organic farmers. Without the benefit of synthetic herbicides, organic farmers must rely on a host of ecological weed management (EWM) practices to control weeds. Despite EWM’s ability to improve soil quality, the perceived rate of integrated EWM strategy adoption remains low. This low adoption is likely a result of the complexity in designing and evaluating EWM strategies, the tendency for outreach to focus on the risks of EWM strategies rather than their benefits, and a lack of quantitative measures link-ing the performance of EWM strategies to farmers’ on-farm objectives and practices. Here we report on the development and deployment of an easy-to-use online decision support tool (DST) that aids organic farmers in identifying their on-farm objectives, characterizing the performance of their practices, and evaluating EWM strategies recommended by an expert advisory panel. Informed by the principles of structured decision making, the DST uses multiple choice tasks to help farmers evaluate the short- and long-term trade-offs of EWM strategies,while also focusing their attention on their most important objectives. We then invited organic farmers across the United States, in particular those whose email addresses were registered on the USDA’s Organic Research Integrity Database, to engage the DST online. Results show considerable movement in participants’ (n=45) preferences from practices focused on reducing weeding costs and labor in the short term to EWM strategies focused on improving soil quality in the long term. Indeed, nearly half of those farmers (48%) who initially ranked a strategy com-posed of their current practices highest ultimately preferred a better-performing EWM strategy focused on eliminating the weed seedbank over 5 yr.



Most Michigan residents are concerned about Line 5 spilling into Mackinac Straits

On Friday, February 22nd, Grant Gunn and I, colleagues on an IPPSR MAPPR grant looking at the Line 5 underwater oil pipeline, spoke with Arnold Weinfeld and Charles Ballard on WKAR’s MSU Today with Russ White Podcast.  Hear what we had to say and read about work here.  You can also download the MSU Today with Russ White program on iTunes!


Do people disagree with themselves?

It is commonly accepted that people disagree with one another. In this article, my colleagues and I present results that suggest people may disagree with themselves. Using eight decision-making contexts ranging in familiarity, complexity, and risk, we show that a nationally representative sample (n = 1874) of respondents made choices that were inconsistent across two complimentary methods of eliciting preferences. We show that on average individuals demonstrate higher levels of internal consistency, or alignment between their choices and their stated values and concerns, when decisions are ‘easy’, or simple, familiar, and have little risk. However, this consistency declines when people are confronted with difficult choices involving unfamiliar, complex contexts involving high risk. Moreover, providing additional and salient contextual information about alternatives, such as brand names, model information, or the specific components of a risk mitigation strategy, results in significantly lower levels of consistency when compared to situations where this information is withheld. This finding suggests that people rely on simplifying heuristics when making easy decisions; however, this kind of information is less influential when choices are difficult. Importantly, we show that higher levels of education also have a significant and positive association with the consistency of people’s choices.

Douglas L. Bessette, Robyn S. Wilson & Joseph L. Arvai (2019) Do people disagree with themselves? Exploring the internal consistency of complex, unfamiliar, and risky decisions, Journal of Risk Research, DOI: 10.1080/13669877.2019.1569107

Exploring landowners’ post-construction changes in perceptions of wind energy in Michigan

Researchers have suggested that residents’ acceptance of wind turbines follow a U-shaped curve over time, starting with generally positive attitudes about wind energy, dipping once a project is proposed, and then rebounding after construction. This research considers how residents’ perceptions of the benefits and negative impacts of wind turbines shift post-construction by surveying the same individuals (n = 520) at two time periods after a nearby wind project became operational. We find that residents’ perceptions follow two separate trajectories based on their perception of the fairness of the wind siting planning process and—to a lesser extent—whether they have a direct financial stake in the wind project. Residents who perceived a fair planning process tended to perceive greater benefits of wind turbines, job creation, and revenues for landowners specifically, while residents who perceived an unfair process perceived significantly greater negative impacts, including visual and noise problems, reduction of nearby property values, and human health problems. These results suggest that while energy business models that extent direct financial compensation to more landowners impact the attitudes of residents in the short- term, resident attitudes about procedural justice may have implications that extend well beyond the project planning stage, impacting long-term support for adding new and repowering old turbines.