The Situational Consequences of Consumption
Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 5, 2008
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To achieve the level of greenhouse gas emissions reductions called for by climate change experts, officials and policy analysts may need to develop an unfamiliar category of regulated entity: the consumer. Although industrial, manufacturing, retail, and service sector firms undoubtedly will remain the focus of climate change policy in the near term, individuals and households exert a greenhouse footprint that seems simply too large for policymakers to ignore in the long term. This paper, written as a foreword for the Environmental Law Reporter’s symposium issue, “Climate Change and Consumption,” emerges from an interdisciplinary conference of the same title held at Vanderbilt University in April 2008. The paper begins by providing an overview of the limited role that consumer behavior and decision making has played in environmental law to date. It then describes theoretical and empirical frameworks for understanding the consumer and consumption that could be deployed to inform law and policy if, as we predict, the consumer becomes a much more significant target of environmental regulation. The paper concludes by summarizing the symposium articles, which range widely across disciplines and areas of focus, but which reflect a common belief that the carbon-constrained consumer is worthy of significant academic and policy attention.
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