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Why do people continue driving conventional cars despite climate change? Social-psychological and institutional insights from a survey of Norwegian commuters

John Thøgersen, Arild Vatn, Marianne Aasen, Riley Dunlap, Dana Fisher, Ottar Hellevik, Paul C. Stern

Few studies have investigated the impact of climate beliefs on everyday behavioral choices with significant climate impacts, such as the choice of travel mode. In addition, there is a lack of studies combining approaches from different disciplines. We develop a framework that integrates considerations of infrastructure and institutional and social-psychological processes and apply it to the choice of a conventional internal combustion-engine vehicle (ICV) for commuting. We use structural equation modeling on data from a representative survey of Norwegian commuters (N = 2607) to estimate direct and indirect effects on these choices. We find that ICV use is determined by physical infrastructure, car ownership and social norms supporting this behavior and indirectly by refuting or doubting scientific evidence on climate change. Many of these effects are mediated through beliefs favoring ICV use. Notably, ICV use is strongly supported by social norms, reflecting a long process of integrating ICV use in people’s lives as a part of normal everyday behavior that is rarely questioned. In other words, the use of a conventional ICV for commuting has been institutionalized in Norway as in other developed economies. As a result, changing to more climate-friendly commuting behavior is a challenge. We conclude with some reflections on how to encourage this transition and how we can build on this study to monitor behavior changes.

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