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.


Outdoor News: “Deer ‘stakeholders’ group does due diligence

I couldn’t be happier to read Steve Pollick’s review of the Ohio Division of Wildlife’s deer stakeholder process.  It was a lot of time and energy spent not only by the ODW, but also by the stakeholders who attended five meetings spread out over a year.  These individuals were fully committed to the process and I can’t thank them enough for their hard work.  Read the full report here:


The Global Climate Action Summit a missed opportunity?

Last week’s 2018 Global Climate Action Summit provided an opportunity for corporate executives and politicians from around the world to gather in San Francisco and announce, to considerable fanfare, their new carbon mitigation targets.  Initiated by Governor Jerry Brown (D-CA) immediately following Trump’s announcement that the US would withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord, the summit was also intended to bring together climate activists, NGOs, renewable energy developers, and to a lesser extent—at least by my count—academics, to collaborate, network, share experiences and perhaps most importantly encourage one another.

In addition to the rollout of new mitigation targets, a slew of announcements were made about increases in the number of zero-emission vehicles (ZEV) and ZEV infrastructure (way to go, Norway!), new carbon pricing regimes, recent transitions to renewables, sustainable business practices, the critical role of maintaining if not increasing economic growth and generating profits—I mean, wow there sure was a lot about profiting off of climate mitigation and green business practices, a less astute delegate may have missed the point of the summit altogether!

Marginalized Communities

And finally, a host of calls were made to not only improve the lives of but incorporate more indigenous and marginalized peoples—or at least their interests—into climate decisions.  To the summit organizers’ credit, the makeup of nearly every program and panel event I attended was mostly if not entirely made up of females and people of color.  This is not only refreshing, but appropriate, as at one point during a panel discussion on “Power building toward participatory justice,” Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, remarked that “wherever there are marginalized or impoverished people, it is always women who are leading.”

Business Sustainability & Science-based Targets

I was able to attend the summit as an official delegate—colorful, tech-loaded badge and all—after having been invited to participate in the University of Michigan’s Erb Institute’s affiliate event “Developing climate-business strategies: Partnering with universities for science-based impact” by my friend, colleague and former PhD advisor, Dr. Joe Arvai.  Dr. Arvai is the director of the Erb Institute; however, he once not too long ago was the director of our own Environmental Science and Policy Program here at MSU and a faculty member in my current department of Community Sustainability—I should admit here that I did graduate from U of M, sorry Spartan fans; if you want to hurl insults at me in person, stop by my office and we can talk about wind energy!

Erb’s event brought together corporate sustainability officers and Institute staff and students to discuss ways of better collaborating, improving and expanding the role of science-based targets—a hot topic in business sustainability these days, and incorporating behavioral decision research insights into business best practices.  Dr. Arvai invited me both because my research involves building decision-support tools for groups desiring to pursue climate and sustainability goals and because he wanted a greater regional presence at the Summit—Go Blue, but also Go Green!  The affiliate event took place on Tuesday in an old garage, rented via, which if you didn’t know—most of us at the meeting didn’t know either—is basically just AirBnB for business meetings—pretty cool.  It was a lively and provocative discussion.

Zero Emission Vehicles

Most of GCAS2018 took place at the Moscone Center in downtown San Francisco as well as at hotels, meeting spaces, libraries, and restaurants across the city.  I attended two other affiliate events, one at the Marriott Union Square and one at the W Hotel, both of which were open to the public—some events like the Erb’s were reserved for credentialed invitees only.  The first, “Raising our climate mitigation ambitions: Toward all zero-emission vehicles,” was hosted by the ZEV Alliance, a collaboration of governments aggressively pursuing reductions in the number of internal combustion engines on the road, in the air and in the sea.  There I learned from Nick Bridge, the UK Special Representative for Climate Change that by 2021 the UK will be sailing an autonomous electric cargo ship, which it should be known is a critical leap forward.  Shipping is responsible for 3% of global CO2 emissions—that is number expected to rise, and due to the weight and distances travelled is especially difficult to wean off fossil fuels.

Carbon Pricing

The other event was hosted by Yale University and attended by John Kerry—a man who is far more charismatic in real life than on television by the way.  Both the former Secretary of State’s focus and that of the panel invitees was to encourage universities across the US to adopt carbon pricing.  Researchers from Yale, Swarthmore, Smith and Arizona State all described their universities’ carbon pricing models, most of which had begun as voluntary, departmental and revenue-neutral systems intended to internalize emissions into facility construction and management calculations.  Those interested in learning more can investigate the beta version of Second Nature’s Carbon Pricing Toolkit.

One especially convincing rationale for adopting such prices—even if just virtual prices—was put forth by Dr. Casey Pickett, Director of Carbon Charge at Yale.  He urged that because students would soon be managing businesses and making decisions that would have to account for a real carbon price, they’d better get that experience as students.  What’s more, if universities and faculty are really encouraging aggressive action on climate, then they must lead the charge in their own departments and from their own pocketbooks.

Politicizing & Profiting off of Climate Change

While these events informed and inspired, it must be said that the event on the whole was problematically political.  In what was perhaps my favorite moment of the summit Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International argued that “Climate change is a political problem, not a technical one.”  She couldn’t be more right.  Still, the summit was a who’s who of the progressive movement, attended by Michael Bloomberg, Nancy Pelosi, Jerry Brown, the fore-mentioned Secretary of State, Harrison Ford, and even coveted Trump-impersonator himself, Alec Baldwin.  Speakers did not shy away from railing against the current administration, and never failed to get rousing applause when they did so.  Had a conservative been able to get credentials—and it’s very possible one did, though I didn’t see one—they would have found themselves participating in one individual on my twitter feed had deftly identified as a “Cult Summit.”

There are also serious concerns with hosting such an event in one of the most expensive cities in the country.  Protesters were able to both stall Governor Brown’s entrance and then disrupt Mr. Bloomberg’s remarks by chanting, “The Earth is not for sale, the sky is not for sale, our water is not for sale!”  After the protestors were removed—without incident, Bloomberg responded, “Only in America can you have environmentalists protest an environmental conference.”  I think he missed their point.

As with most conferences and summits I leave feeling motivated to take action, to encourage adoption of carbon pricing both at MSU and in my home department (students, shoot me an email if you want in on that action!), to replace my aging Honda Civic with a Chevy Volt, to replace and increase the insulation in my attic.

However, I also leave feeling like the summit was yet another missed opportunity.  It was principally an echo chamber, a very ritzy echo chamber, filled with like-minded folks rah rah’ing like-minded folks to take action.  Yet these are not the folks who need convincing.  Nowhere were there discussions with folks who were less gung-ho about climate action, nowhere were there meaningful discussions with conservatives or rural folks from the Midwest—who are installing wind and solar at the greatest rates.  And only once did I hear it remarked, by the President of the AFL-CIO, Richard Trumka, about the need to compensate, or at least acknowledge, those who will sacrifice if we aggressively mitigate emissions.

And so I expect that we will continue on pace, far, far slower than necessary.

Deer Stakeholder Engagement Process: Informing the Ohio Department of Natural Resources-Division of Wildlife 10-year Deer Management Plan: Final Report

Beginning in the fall of 2016, the Ohio Division of Wildlife began a 1.5 year deliberative stakeholder engagement process aimed at informing their 10-year deer management plan.  Then at OSU, myself and Jeremy Bruskotter, an Associate Professor at OSU, helped facilitate that process.  Attached is the final report describing the process, its results and our recommendations.Screen Shot 2018-07-25 at 10.45.33 AM


In the weeds: distinguishing organic farmers who want information about ecological weed management from those who need it

The benefits of farming organically in the USA are increasingly known; however, organic farmers also encounter considerable risks, especially from weeds. Without herbicides, organic farmers can rely only on crop rotations, mechanical cultivation, manual weeding, beneficial insects and other cultural practices, termed ecological weed management (EWM), to control weeds. Despite promising results and the many ways in which EWM can be employed, it remains poorly adopted by the organic community. Organic farmers resist research and recommendations from University scientists and Extension, instead preferring to rely on local family and friends and their own experience to guide decisions. Here we investigate fac- tors that may lead organic farmers to recognize that they need additional information about EWM and to seek that information out. Using a national survey of organic farmers (n = 554) and a risk-information seeking and processing model, we show that farmers’ risk and benefit perceptions, worry, social norms encouraging seeking out information, and farmers’ own per- ceived knowledge gaps, particularly with respect to their most problematic weed, influence information-seeking behavior. Identifying characteristics that may distinguish those organic farmers who need and want additional information, we provide recommendations to Extension and University scientists about how best to communicate, build trust and provide decision support to the organic community with respect to EWM.


Engaging attribute tradeoffs in clean energy portfolio development

Governments and privately-held utilities will have to drastically reduce their carbon emissions to mitigate climate change. Such reductions will require transitioning electrical infrastructure to rely on cleaner fuels and power-generation technologies. Despite the myriad factors influencing both the process and eventual outcome of these transitions, it is typically transitions’ cost and individuals’ willingness to pay (WTP) for them that dominate both strategic planning and political discourse. Studies used to calculate the public’s WTP however often rely on vague policy options, ignore important social and environmental attributes, and fail to provide individuals means for engaging tradeoffs. Here we report on three studies that provided individuals multiple choice tasks for evaluating real-world portfolio options across key social and environmental attributes. Our results show that individuals placed high importance on minimizing costs, yet also consistently ranked strategies highest that reduced both greenhouse gas (GHG) and air particulate emissions, even when those portfolios require considerable cost increases. When provided an opportunity to construct their own portfolios, participants again constructed costly portfolios that significantly reduced both GHG emissions and air pollution. Using multiple choice tasks, we demonstrated individuals’ WTP for low-emission energy strategies to be higher than previous studies relying on contingent valuation suggest.


• GHG and air particulate emissions, jobs created, land use and innovation all key energy attributes.
• Individuals deemphasize cost when shown portfolio performance across additional attributes.
• Individuals consistently reject status quo energy options in favor of costly, low-emission options.
• Individuals’ WTP between $44 and $65/month to eliminate GHG and air particulate emissions.


The social, economic and environmental benefits of plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) in Michigan.

DISCLAIMER: I’m an applied decision researcher and professor for energy systems at Michigan State University.  My research focuses principally on helping people to identify their values, concerns and objectives and then engage the trade-offs between those values, concerns and objectives and the many options available.

The trade-offs between purchasing and operating a conventional gasoline vehicle and a plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) in particular are considerable and complex.  Not surprisingly, most of the the US public misunderstands the basic functions of a PEV, doesn’t know their local and state PEV policies, and misinterprets a PEV’s fuel and maintenance savings.  Those that do follow the evolution of PEVs more closely tend to focus on either PEVs’ purchase price or their “return on investment” with regard to the size and capacity of the PEV’s battery.

And yes, the retail price of a PEV, for example a Chevrolet Volt or Tesla Model 3, is considerably higher than that of a conventional gasoline vehicle, typically 10-50% higher–though the US Government does offer a $7500 tax credit.  However, driving a PEV has numerous other benefits; some of which accrue to the vehicle’s owner, with many others accruing to society and Michigan more broadly.

For instance, driving a PEV is far less expensive than driving a conventional vehicle (once the vehicle is purchased of course).  Driving 100 miles in a PEV costs between $3.00 and $4.00 in electricity, whereas driving a conventional vehicle that same distance requires about $14.00 of gasoline.  Additionally, because a PEV has no transmission, does not require oil changes and uses a regenerative braking system—thus not needing its brakes replaced as often, a PEV’s maintenance costs are far lower.  Driving a PEV also generates less smog and soot in urban air, can generate fewer greenhouse gas emissions than driving a conventional vehicle, and can also improve the country’s economic security in the event of an interruption to oil production in the Middle East.

Of course, there are also real costs to driving a PEV, costs not easily measurable in dollars.  PEVs tend to have a shorter range than conventional vehicles.  They take far longer to recharge—particularly compared to the time it takes to fill a conventional vehicle’s gas tank.  They have less locations available for recharging—though they can be charged at home unlike conventional vehicles.  They also have uncertain battery life and high battery costs—though most PEV manufacturers provide long battery warranties.  For example Tesla provides an 8 year/100,000 mile battery warranty for its Model 3.

In addition to PEVs’ costs and benefits to owners and the environment, increasing the number of PEVs on the road may also have dramatic impacts on Michigan’s job market and the state’s energy system.  Michigan’s economy has historically relied heavily on automobile and automobile parts manufacturing.  And already, Michigan has multiple manufacturers producing PEV batteries (for example, LG in Holland and General Motors in Brownstown Charter Township).  The Chevy Bolt is assembled in Orion Township, Michigan, and the Chevy Volt is manufactured in the Detroit-Hamtramck plant.  GM’s Brownstown plant provides 100 advanced technology jobs, and the LG plant will house 600 employees once its latest addition is complete.

It is not a stretch to presume that the more PEVs are purchased, the more PEV jobs will become necessary.  And due to both Michigan’s history and proximity to current vehicle manufacturers, and the state’s favorable tax climate, we are likely to attract–and recruit–additional battery and PEV manufacturing jobs.  The extent to which these jobs will replace conventional vehicle manufacturing jobs remains to be seen however.

Additionally, far more people purchasing and driving PEVs could have dramatic effects on Michigan’s energy system.  Most people charge their PEVs at night, when the cost and demand for electricity is low.  Those vehicles and their batteries can then be used (when properly equipped) to “feed in” or provide electricity back into the electrical grid during the day when demand for electricity—and its cost—is highest.   The PEV’s owner would receive payment for that electricity—further reducing the cost of operating their PEV.  This not only reduces the cost of electricity to all consumers–not just PEV owners, but this leveling out of demand eases the incorporation of additional intermittent renewable sources, like wind and solar, into Michigan’s energy system.


Interested in studying energy sustainability? Join me in the Department of Community Sustainability at Michigan State University.

The Department of Community Sustainability (CSUS) at Michigan State University is an interdisciplinary department addressing contemporary issues of sustainability in agriculture, recreation, natural resources, and the environment. Recently the department expanded that focus to include energy!  Specifically, the department hired an assistant professor of sustainable energy systems.  This person–hint, it’s me!–is tasked with researching sustainable fuels and power-generation systems, investigating and encouraging sustainable energy transitions, and developing sustainable communities and community energy solutions.

If you are interested in studying energy sustainability, perhaps you should join me in CSUS!!  –you really should!–  Consistent with its mission to assist in the development of sustainable communities, CSUS offers three undergraduate majors linked by a common core in community sustainability. These three majors – Environmental Studies and Sustainability (ESS); Sustainable Parks, Recreation and Tourism (SPRT); and Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources Education (AFNRE) – share a set of courses centered on community sustainability.

The CSUS graduate program offers two graduate majors: Community Sustainability (MS and PhD) and Sustainable Tourism and Protected Areas Management (MS and PhD). In both undergraduate and graduate programs, CSUS embraces international as well as domestic applications, engagement, and opportunities.

Please feel free to email me at or call my office at 517-353-0803 and ask questions about both my own research and or the research of my colleagues in CSUS.  You might also follow me on twitter @dlbessette to get a flavor of the kind of questions and concerns we’re asking here in CSUS.