$3M federally-funded project encourages Americans to eat less to reduce climate change


In a $3 million study funded during the final year of the Obama administration, the National Science Foundation is seeking ways to reduce global warming by influencing Americans to consume less food, water, and energy, and to become more like citizens of the Netherlands.

The study, by researchers at Michigan Technological University, seeks to prompt behavior changes using “interactive role-playing activities” to teach families how to consume less.

“Changing people’s behavior may be the hardest part of mitigating climate change,” said the university. “But a research team led by Michigan Technological University wants to find a way to do just that.”

The project involves the development of a “Household Metabolism Tracker” that monitors the quantity of energy and water consumed by Americans.

“Changes in household-level actions in the U.S. have the potential to reduce rates of greenhouse gas emissions and climate change by reducing consumption of food, energy and water (FEW),” according to the study’s award abstract. “This project will identify potential interventions for reducing household FEW consumption, test options in participating households in two communities, and collect data to develop new environmental impact models.”

According to the researchers, their project will “increase the well-being of individuals at the household level” by encouraging Americans to eat less and use less electricity, while also reducing “climate-related risks” and increasing “economic competitiveness.”

The study, for which the university received $2,983,358, began in October 2016 and will continue through September 2020.

David Watkins, the lead researcher on the project and professor of civil and environmental engineering at Michigan Tech, said that the study is seeking to cultivate “targeted conservation.”

“We’re trying to understand what types of consumption have the biggest impacts,” said Watkins.

The study will examine “how households are currently consuming food, energy and water,” in order to “implement experimental changes in their daily FEW consumption habits,” according to Watkins.

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