Residents weigh global benefits and local risks in views of climate change measures

  • Oct. 31, 2013


BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- An emerging method to store global-warming carbon dioxide underground faces challenges in gaining public acceptance, especially when the global benefits carry localized costs, a new study co-authored by Indiana University researchers confirms.

The study on the public acceptance of carbon capture and storage in Indiana, a heavily coal-reliant state, shows that capturing carbon emissions and injecting them underground for long-term storage is supported by 80 percent of the population, but about 20 percent of the initial supporters disapprove of the use of the technology if the carbon storage facility would be built close to their homes and communities. Thus, one-fifth of the initial supporters exhibit a "NIMBY" or "not in my back yard" response to the technology.

The research was led by Rachel Krause from the School of Public Affairs and Administration at the University of Kansas, in collaboration with Sanya Carley, David Warren and John Graham, all from the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University Bloomington, and John Rupp from the Indiana Geological Survey. Graham is dean of SPEA, Carley is an assistant professor, and Warren is a doctoral student.

Titled "Not In (or Under) My Backyard: Geographic Proximity and Public Acceptance of Carbon Capture and Storage Facilities," the study found that world views, perceived economic benefits from carbon capture and storage, and concerns about safety are the major factors that determine public acceptance of siting facilities nearby. The study was recently published online in the Society of Risk Analysis’ journal Risk Analysis.

Carbon capture and storage, commonly known as CCS, is a technique designed to mitigate climate change by capturing the heat-trapping gas carbon dioxide from coal plants and storing it deep underground. The technology allows for a more environmentally benign use of fossil fuels, but critics say it may prolong the dependence on coal, divert investment away from renewable energy sources and burden local communities with costs and health risks. The risks often associated with CCS include CO2 leakage, induced earthquake activity, explosions and groundwater contamination. Concerns over these risks have led to some NIMBY-like responses and contributed to the cancellation of several planned CCS facilities in Europe.

The research team surveyed more than 1,000 Indiana residents using the Indiana University Energy, Climate and Environment Survey. The survey was used to determine whether factors such as demographics, home ownership, perception of risks, perception of economic benefits and worldviews (or cultural biases) might affect individuals’ acceptance or NIMBY reactions toward a proposed local CCS facility.

Previous research suggests that acceptance of climate change and new technologies can be predicted by the “individualist,” “hierarchical” or “egalitarian” worldviews conceptualized by the scholars Mary Douglas and Aaron Wildavsky. Individualists support new technologies that may drive economic growth. People with a hierarchical worldview tend to follow the opinions of experts and will support technology if it is recommended by credible officials. The egalitarians see inequality as the largest risk to society; because climate change is expected to disproportionately affect the poor, egalitarians are likely to support CCS, and the location of CCS facilities will not affect this support.

The study authors found that respondents’ worldviews are good predictors of CCS support and NIMBY reactions. As predicted, an egalitarian viewpoint was associated with increased likelihood of support for nearby facilities. Respondents with an individualistic worldview were significantly less likely to display a NIMBY sentiment, perhaps because individualists may view CCS positively as a market-based response to climate change. Demographic variables such as age, race, income and political views did not strongly predict respondents’ attitudes toward CCS. The strongest predictor of support of CCS was individuals’ expectation that it would generate economic development; this expectation overcame potential NIMBY responses for most participants.

Although Indiana is average with respect to income, poverty and population growth compared to the other 49 states, it is politically conservative and currently has no climate-related initiatives or credit-trading programs. Given the sampling of individuals in Indiana, the authors caution that the results cannot be extrapolated to other states or communities, nationally or globally. The authors suggest that future studies should ask about individuals’ acceptance of CCS facilities at a number of specific distances.

Risk Analysis: An International Journal is published by the nonprofit Society for Risk Analysis, a multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary, scholarly, international society that provides an open forum for all those who are interested in risk analysis. Risk analysis is defined broadly to include risk assessment, risk characterization, risk communication, risk management and policy relating to risk, in the context of risks of concern to individuals, to public and private sector organizations and to society at a local, regional, national or global level.

Contact Steve Gibb of the Society for Risk Analysis at 202-422-5425 or to arrange an interview with any of the authors. 

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Jim Hanchett

  • School of Public and Environmental Affairs
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Steve Gibb

  • Society for Risk Analysis
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