Experiments on Energy, the Environment, and Sustainability: Volume 14


Table of contents

(13 chapters)

Purpose – This chapter is the introductory chapter for the volume.

Approach – We begin with “A Fable for Our Time” and discuss the role that laboratory experimental social science research can play in policy issues regarding energy, the environment, and sustainability. We follow this general discussion with a chapter-by-chapter summary of the volume.

Objective – This chapter examines the performance of the market to discover efficient equilibrium under alternative auction designs.

Background – Auctions are increasingly being used to allocate emissions allowances (“permits”) for cap and trade and common-pool resource management programs. These auctions create thick markets that can provide important information about changes in current market conditions.

Methodology – This chapter uses experimental methods to examine the extent to which the predicted increase in the Walrasian price due to a shift in willingness to pay (perhaps due to a shift in costs of pollution abatement) is reflected in observed sales prices under alternative auction formats.

Results – Price tracking is comparably good for uniform-price sealed-bid auctions and for multi-round clock auctions, with or without end-of-round information about excess demand. More price inertia is observed for “pay as bid” (discriminatory) auctions, especially for a continuous discriminatory format in which bids could be changed at will, in part because “sniping” in the final moments blocked the full effect of the demand shock.

Conclusion – Uniform-price auctions (clock and sealed-bid uniform-price, and continuous uniform-price) generate changes in purchase prices that are reasonably close to predicted changes. There is some evidence of tacit collusion causing prices to be too low relative to predictions in most cases. The worst price tracking was observed for discriminatory auctions.

Application – Uniform-price auctions appear to perform at least as well as other auction designs with respect to discovery of efficient market prices when there are unexpected and unannounced changes in willingness to pay for permits.

Purpose – This study constitutes a first attempt to experimentally test the performance of a 100% auction versus a 100% free allocation of CO2 permits under the rules and parameters that mimic the EU ETS (imperfect competition, uncertainty in emissions' control, and allowing banking), with environmental targets more restrictive than the current ones but foreseeable for the near future.

Methodology/approach – Two experimental treatments were run to achieve our goal. Both included the rules and the parameters that parallel the EU ETS structure, the only difference being the rule for the primary allocation of permits.

Findings – Our experimental results indicate that the EU ETS has the potential to reduce CO2 emissions, achieving targets considerably more restrictive than the current ones at high efficiency levels, both with auctioned and free emission permits.

Practical implications – Concerns about undue scarcity, and corresponding high prices, in secondary markets generated by a primary auction market are not warranted under the proposed dynamic auction format. This adds arguments favoring auctioning over grandfathering as the rule for the initial allocation of emission permits in the EU ETS.

Originality/value of chapter – This study implements a theoretically appropriate auction format for the primary allocation of emission permits (the Ausubel (2004) auction) and incorporates a first attempt to include in the analysis measures of the risk preferences of subjects participating in emission permits experiments. These characteristics are for the first time implemented under a complex experimental design (including uncertainty of emission abatement, and banking), trying to parallel the EU ETS trading environment.

Purpose – The chapter reports a laboratory emissions trading experiment with imperfect enforcement that introduces environmental framing as a treatment variable.

Methodology – The research uses the methodology of laboratory experimental economics. In the current design, subjects self-reported their “emissions” at the end of each trading period and were inspected probabilistically and fined when they underreported.

Findings – Transaction volume and compliance rates were significantly lower in the environmentally framed condition, compared to the more standard neutrally framed control.

Practical implications – The latter result suggests that environmental framing reduced subjects' incentives to honestly report “pollution” to the experimental “regulator.” As experimenters employ more “framed field experiments” outside the lab, it may be important to evaluate such pure framing effects in the lab if a main research goal is to compare lab and field experiment outcomes.

Originality/value – Experimental economics research rarely manipulates environmental framing as a treatment variable. The substantial impact of framing on subject behavior documented in this study highlights its importance, particularly in the presence of moral concerns such as honest reporting.

Purpose – This study investigates the effect of heterogeneity in an environment with a dynamic public bad.

Methodology/approach – Every period agents decide on own level of production that generates private revenue and emissions. Emissions lead to pollution that acts as a public bad and accumulates over time. Our treatment variable is the emission propensity of agents' production technologies. We characterize the Markov perfect equilibrium and social optimum and employ a laboratory experiment to compare the observed behavior to theoretical predictions.

Findings – We find that the observed production levels are between the Markov perfect equilibrium and social optimum. With experience, the strongest adjustment and lowest level of pollution is achieved in the heterogeneous treatment with high average emission propensity. When the costs of climate change are not severe, institutions are most necessary to create incentives for environmentally friendly behavior.

Research limitations/implications – The results of this study apply to the case when heterogeneity is exogenous and the only way to reduce emissions is by reducing production. Natural extensions include the option to invest in clean technologies, the availability of communication, the group size, and endogenously emerging and exogenous regulatory institutions.

Practical implications – Our results suggest that under relatively favorable conditions heterogeneous countries are less likely to achieve sustainability without external enforcement. Under unfavorable conditions the impending common threat of significant damage leads to higher levels of voluntary cooperation.

Originality/value of the chapter – This is the first study to address the practical problem of coordination among technologically diverse countries, and fundamental questions regarding the effect of heterogeneity in environments with a dynamic public bad.

Purpose – Land assembly can mitigate the negative environmental impacts of land fragmentation on urban areas, agriculture, and wildlife. However, the assembler faces several obstacles including transactions costs and the strategic bargaining behavior of landowners. The purpose of this chapter is to examine how the order of bargaining and the nature of contracts may impact the land assembler's problem.

Methodology – We develop theoretical predictions of subjects' behavior and compare these to behavior in a laboratory land-assembly game with monetary incentives.

Findings – Sellers bargain more aggressively when bargaining is sequential compared to simultaneous. Noncontingent contracts increase bargaining delay and the likelihood of failed agreements. Buyers and sellers act more aggressively when there are multiple bargaining periods, leading to significant bargaining delay. When a seller has an earnings advantage in the laboratory, it is the first seller to bargain in noncontingent contract treatments. In sequential bargaining treatments, most sellers preferred to be the first seller to bargain.

Research limitations – Our laboratory experiments involved only two sellers, complete information, and costless delay. Land assembly in the field may involve many sellers, incomplete information, and costly delay.

Practical implications – Some of our results contradict conventional wisdom and a common result from the land-assembly literature that it is advantageous to be the last seller to bargain, a so-called “holdout.” Our results also imply that fully overcoming the holdout problem may require subsidies or compulsory acquisition.

Originality – This chapter is one of the first to experimentally investigate the land-assembly problem, and the first to specifically examine the role of bargaining order and contract type.

Purpose – This chapter tests the effectiveness of different institutions to fundraise for environmental projects at tourism destinations.

Methodology – We conduct a series of experiments with tourists visiting the Island of Majorca, Spain, and test the fundraising capacity of a voluntary donation scheme, two tax levels, and a matching instrument. In the first treatment of our experiment, tourists have the opportunity to make a voluntary donation to a local environmental organization involved in environmental projects. In a high-tax and low-tax treatment, tourists are taxed some proportion of their initial endowment and then are allowed to make voluntary contributions from their remaining endowment. In a final treatment, the experimenters match, one-for-one, any voluntary donations.

Findings – We test the crowding-out hypothesis of taxes over voluntary environmental donations and find imperfect crowding-out (from 60% to 65% for different tax levels).We also explore potential crowding-in of matching instruments (widely used in nontourism settings for fundraising campaigns), but do not find any support for it.

Practical Implications – Our results support the conclusion that it would be reasonable to use voluntary donation programs and tourism taxes complementarily (instead of independently), to increase fundraising for environmental purposes at tourism destinations.

Purpose – The purpose of this chapter is to provide a discussion of the importance of social science research in areas of energy, economics, and the environment from the point of view of the director of a major interdisciplinary institute, Institute for Energy Systems Economics and Sustainability (IESES), at Florida State University (FSU). The author is himself a mechanical engineer who has steered the new institute into an explicit mission of linking engineering and social science research.

Design and methodology – The chapter is a viewpoint paper. It begins with a brief history of the IESES institute and then addresses three specific policy areas: electrical grid improvements, transportation, and land use.

Implications – At this time, our society needs exceptional energy policy as much or more than it needs direct technology investment.

Originality – It is a tradition at Research in Experimental Economics to include an overview from scholars outside the field but with practical experience in the policy issues being addressed. This is the first time that the overview has been provided by an author whose primary training is as an engineer.

Publication date
Book series
Research in Experimental Economics
Series copyright holder
Emerald Publishing Limited
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