Tackling the climate crisis requires rapidly exchanging knowledge across geographic, economic, and disciplinary boundaries. In this blog, we hear from Oliver Hauser, an Associate Professor of Economics at the University of Exeter Business School, UKRI Future Leaders Fellow, and Turing Fellow at the Alan Turing Institute.
Across the globe and across scientific disciplines urgent research is being undertaken to study, understand, and mitigate the impact of climate change. This cross-disciplinary effort bridges subjects from climate policy, social impact and meteorology to food production, physics, chemistry, and more.
“In my opinion, ‘climate justice’ starts by recognising that the detrimental effects of human-induced climate change are not and will not be felt equally by all individuals and groups of people,” says Professor Oliver Hauser, whose research explores the way in which incentives for sustainability and climate justice are not aligned across generations.
“We have to acknowledge – and build institutions and processes to account for the fact – that some groups will be more affected by the climate crisis than others. And that’s both today, for example in the case of poorer nations more than richer nations, and in the future – future generations more than existing generations.”
This realisation places the responsibility on today’s decision-makers – all of us, as Professor Hauser points out – to act in ways that ensure we don’t unjustly burden others with the damage of our actions today.
“Rather than reducing the welfare of others,” he explains, “climate justice means maintaining or creating opportunities for everyone – including those still unborn – instead of accepting or increasing damages to those most at risk.”
Professor Hauser’s environmental research examines to what extent people’s decisions affect the environment and future generations’ opportunities to enjoy this planet’s resources sustainably.
“The costs of climate-friendly decisions such as investing in solar energy for our homes or taking the bike to work instead of opting for the comforts of a petrol-guzzling car need to be shouldered by decision-makers today,” says Professor Hauser. “But the benefits of those actions are mostly accrued by the many future generations ahead of us. This is a classic intergenerational social dilemma where social efficiency across many generations is large, but those bearing the costs are personally better off not making those sacrifices. And so, unfortunately, selfishness today gets in the way of making things better for the future.”
“I use the analytical toolkit, methods and insights from experimental and behavioural economics to study how people make the kinds of decisions that affect future generations” he continues. “In a paper – ‘Cooperating with the future’ – published in Nature in 2014, my colleagues and I studied the impact of institutions such as voting on sustainable behaviour in an intergenerational social dilemma.”
The research found that in the absence of an institution when the market reigns freely, a minority of non-cooperators can lead to low sustainability, at the cost of many future generations. However, when a voting system was introduced – a democratic institution – it had a dramatic, positive effect on sustainability. (A video produced by Nature explains this research in detail.)
(A video produced by Nature explains this research in detail.)
“More recently, I have turned my attention to the role of families on climate justice,” says Professor Hauser. “Families are another institution – but a much more informal one – that has existed for millennia.”
“My colleague and I gave parents the choice between keeping a pot of money – £69 – for themselves or investing it into planting trees that would enrich the environment and benefit future generations,” he explains. “We found that parents were extremely generous – they invested so much of their money that over 14,000 trees were planted in partnership with the local forestry agency in a newly created ‘climate forest’ near Innsbruck in Austria. We also observed that parents were especially willing to invest the money when their own child was present and watched them make this decision.”
Professor Hauser published his research in Environmental and Resource Economics under the UK Jisc Transformative Agreement. This meant that as a corresponding author affiliated with a participating UK institution, he was eligible to publish OA with all the publication fees covered.
“As Springer Nature is one of the most influential publishers in the world, especially with their flagship Nature journal and many major book titles, it is of particular significance that they have signed on to the Jisc Transformative Agreement,” says Professor Hauser.
“It is thanks to such agreements that it is possible for me to publish my work via OA in Springer Nature journals, and I’m grateful to have been able to take advantage of this OA option."
“I believe OA publishing is part of a much-needed push for greater equity across academia and across the world. Publishing research OA means giving more people the opportunity to read your work who would otherwise not have had the chance or means to do so."
“It is a revolution in access, transparency and accountability. By making our work more freely available to other researchers, including those from low-income countries, as well as journalists and interested readers, we are making the research process more inclusive. It also enables reproducibility and encourages discussion with a wider, more diverse audience that can dive into, learn from, and constructively critique our research."
“However, I believe it is also important to note that publishing OA is not without significant costs or controversies. My hope is that the costs sometimes associated with publishing OA, and therefore reducing its accessibility to all researchers, is a hurdle we will soon overcome so that we have equity not just in the dissemination of research, but in access to OA itself.”
We asked Professor Hauser what advice he would offer to other researchers looking to publish their research open access.
“The fundamental idea behind the drive for more OA publishing is to make research accessible to anyone and everyone,” he says. “To that end, my advice to researchers is to be proactive and strive to ensure that their research can be accessed freely, to the extent that they can."
“Choosing OA publishing is one such route, and if their institution can afford to pay for OA, I would encourage exploring this option and taking the initiative to check with their university if there are pots of funding that can be allocated towards this."
“More generally, I hope that agreements, like the Jisc Transformative Agreement, will become more widespread to support the wider uptake of OA and I would recommend that researchers reach out to their university support teams, or the publishers, to learn which agreements might already be in place that they might not be aware of. Otherwise, they might be missing an opportunity to make their research more freely accessible.”
Oliver Hauser is an Associate Professor of Economics at the University of Exeter Business School, UKRI Future Leaders Fellow, and Turing Fellow at the Alan Turing Institute. Previously, he taught and researched at the Harvard Business School, Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and Harvard Extension School. He has held research fellowships at Harvard University, the Behavioural Insights Team, and Yelp.com. He received his Ph.D. in Biology from Harvard University and his B.Sc. in Physics from the University of Innsbruck. To learn more about Oliver and his research, visit his website.