Cool California Behavior Seminar

Climate-Action-Leader-Logo-colorBy , Davis Enterprise, January 09, 2015 |

 Davis and Riverside are the coolest cities in California.

In the past two years, Cool California, a project co-sponsored by the Air Resources Board and UC Berkeley, has held a competition to see which communities across the state could reduce carbon emissions and increase sustainability efforts. Among the eight cities that competed in the inaugural year, Davis came out on top. Last year, Riverside won the pool.

At a seminar Thursday, a professor and recent doctoral student from UC Berkeley discussed the successes and lessons from the competition, which was geared to encourage sustainable changes in the behavior of individuals and households.

With AB 32 and other climate-focused bills, California has ambitious greenhouse gas-reducing goals for the next few decades.

“If we’re going to get all the way, behavior’s going to have to be central to the process,” said professor Daniel Kammen, who directs the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory at UC Berkeley.

By turning sustainability into a statewide race, the organizers encouraged competition between cities and collaboration within those cities. And because, during the race, the programs and projects within each city were public knowledge, Kammen saw cities immediately copy each other’s approaches, instead of slogging through changes in policy, which can take months or years.

“It’s really interesting to see … how cities are using this literally real time,” he said.

Chris Jones, the leading project coordinator of the CoolClimate network that oversees CoolCalifornia, discussed the difficulties in encouraging individual action.

“People want to know how well they are doing compared to people like themselves,” Jones said. But at the same time, “collective action is much more meaningful than individual action.”

From the data they collected from the two years of competitions, Jones and Kammen noted a couple of interesting trends: while Republicans were less likely to join the program, they almost matched the savings of Democrats, whose liberal values tend to align more with the actions of CoolCalifornia. The biggest motivators weren’t money or prestige; individuals universally wanted to improve where they lived, make an environmental statement and support an organization they cared about.

So far, the competition has engaged only 18 cities and a few thousand Californians. As it moves forward, Kammen and Jones hope to figure out ways to involve cities with lower average incomes, which have tended to drop out of the competition, and big cities, where the multitude of priorities make it difficult to host an effective and far-reaching campaign.

But an added incentive for all involved? While money didn’t register as a motivator for individuals or cities, Kammen found that almost universally, “the behavior that saves carbon, saves money.”

— Reach Elizabeth Case at ecase@davisenterprise.net or 530-747-8052. Follow her on Twitter at @elizabeth_case