Smoggy with a chance of altruism: using air quality forecasts to drive behavioral change

Article Highlights

  • Smog alert programs can be considered a success based on the evidence that smog alerts help sensitive populations

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  • The goal of air quality alerts--reducing emissions and complying with the Clean Air Act--may be tough to reach

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  • Greatest impacts of smog alerts seen in households using the information to produce a private good--exposure reduction

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Abstract

Smoggy With a Chance of Altruism: Using Air Quality Forecasts to Drive Behavioral Change

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Recent years have seen a rise in information-based environmental policies. This report focuses on a type of voluntary, information-based environmental policy – air quality alerts – by summarizing the recent research and contributing new findings. This evaluation of an air quality policy also has implications generally for the use of information-based policies to achieve environmental goals. As an empirical matter, the (behavioral) impact of air quality alerts has received some recent attention in the scholarly literature. This report describes new evidence on the impacts of smog alerts on a broad sample of Atlanta households‟ emitting and averting behaviors. It also reports new evidence from a nationwide survey of air quality forecasting agencies coupled with a nationwide time-use survey to offer a nationwide perspective on behavioral impacts of alert programs. Although this vantage provides less precision than a single-city study, the broader context offers more generalizable results and the kinds of smog alerts that appear in over 300 U.S. cities. The results are mixed, with only weak evidence that driving time is reduced following forecasts and no discernible impact on outdoor recreation nationwide. The conclusion distills the evidence into a few takeaway messages: (1) some people are responsive to forecasts, (2) forecasts do not alter behavior universally, and (3) some of these behavioral impacts may not be as intended.

Douglas Noonan is an adjunct scholar at AEI.

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