This essay traces my academic voyage from studying human perceptions of financial risk to the realization that the human response to climate change is a more fundamental and profound challenge. Along the way, I came to realize that different academic disciplines need to be recruited for two purposes: 1) to tell an accurate story about the motivations and processes by which environmental (and other) decisions get made by stakeholders that range from policy-makers in the public and private sector to the general public; and 2) to determine and implement effective and feasible ways of changing the physical, institutional, and social environment to help myopic decision-makers achieve long(er)-term objectives. I see my voyage as an exercise in applied hope, resisting the constraints that disciplines and academia try to place on scholars and helping others to do so as well, by both example and institution-building.
Actions by individuals and households to reduce carbon-based energy consumption have the potential to change the picture of U.S. energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions in the near term. To tap this potential, however, energy policies and programs need to replace outmoded assumptions about what drives human behavior; they must integrate insights from the behavioral and social sciences with those from engineering and economics. This integrated approach has thus far only occasionally been implemented. This essay summarizes knowledge from the social sciences and from highly successful energy programs to show what the potential is and how it can be achieved.