, Volume 111, Issue 3-4, pp 497-518
Date: 06 Sep 2011

Human control of climate change

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Abstract

The use of analogies and repeated feedback might help people learn about the dynamics of climate change. In this paper, we study the influence of repeated feedback on the control of a carbon-dioxide (CO2) concentration to a goal level in a Dynamic Climate Change Simulator (DCCS) using the “bathtub” analogy. DCCS is a simplification of the complex climate system into its essential elements: CO2 concentration (stock); man-made CO2 emissions (inflow); and natural CO2 removal or absorption in the atmosphere (outflow). In a laboratory experiment involving DCCS, we manipulated feedback delays in two ways: the frequency of emission decisions and the rate of CO2 absorption from the atmosphere (climate dynamics). Our results revealed that participants’ ability to control the CO2 concentration generally remained poor even in conditions where they were allowed to revise their emission decisions frequently (i.e., every 2 years) and where the climate dynamics were rapid (i.e., 1.6% of CO2 concentration was removed every year). Participants’ control of the concentration only improved with repeated feedback in conditions of lesser feedback delay. Moreover, the delay due to climate dynamics had a greater effect on participants’ control than the delay due to emission decisions frequency. We provide future research directions and highlight the potential of using simulations like DCCS to help people learn about dynamics of Earth’s climate.