Harnessing Individual Behavior to Address Climate Change: Options for Congress

51 Pages Posted: 3 May 2007 Last revised: 23 Jul 2015

See all articles by John C. Dernbach

John C. Dernbach

Widener University - Commonwealth Law School

Date Written: April 13, 2007


This article attempts to answer a question about the design of national climate change legislation that has not received significant attention: How should Congress engage individuals in the effort to address climate change? The comprehensive climate change bills introduced in Congress focus primarily on large emitting entities. While this focus needs to be a key element, individuals also need to be engaged. Individuals outside of their work are responsible for one-third of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, and the U.S. has a higher per capita energy consumption rate than virtually any other country. Individuals can play at least two complementary and mutually reinforcing roles - as citizens participating in the implementation process and as consumers. Although each of the bills contains pieces of an individual engagement strategy, none reflect a comprehensive approach. The article recommends a broad range of provisions, including public participation, targets and timetables, numerous forms of public information, and a variety of incentives and pathways for individual action. The purpose of such provisions is to complement, not substitute for, provisions addressing major emitters. For example, allowances or proceeds from the sale of allowances should be distributed to individuals who engage in energy efficient or carbon-reducing activities. A congressional effort to engage individuals would take advantage of some of the nation's key strengths - individual initiative, engaged citizenship, and collective sense of purpose. Such legislation would more likely be at least equal to the challenge in front of us.

Keywords: climate change, legislation, public participation, energy efficiency, energy conservation, allowances, U.S. legislation, climate change, sustainable development

JEL Classification: Q20, Q28, Q30, Q38, Q48, 022, 020, Q01

Suggested Citation

Dernbach, John C., Harnessing Individual Behavior to Address Climate Change: Options for Congress (April 13, 2007). Virginia Environmental Law Journal, Vol. 26, No. 1, 2008; Widener Law School Legal Studies Research Paper No. 08-24. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=983632 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.983632

John C. Dernbach (Contact Author)

Widener University - Commonwealth Law School ( email )

3800 Vartan Way
Harrisburg, PA 17110-9380
United States

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