| Erfurt Laboratory for Empirical Research

Neue Publikation über den Einfluss von Zeitpräferenzen auf nachhaltiges Verhalten

Sustainable resource management is a key policy goal, both at the local and the global level. It requires policy makers to take far-sighted decisions now with consequences in the very long-run. It is equally challenging at the individual level because conserving natural resources not only asks individuals to forego a personal profit for the benefit of the public good but also to incur costs today in order to reap benefits that will arise much later in time.

Planting mangroves is a conservation activity pursuing the long-term goal of sustaining the basis for fishing activities. The decision to engage in mangrove planting requires trading off the short-run costs of planting with its long-run benefits. We report a lab-in-the-field experiment with Thai coastal villagers in which we elicit short- and long-run time preferences prior to mangrove-seed planting. We show that less present-biased participants plant more seeds, while planting is unrelated to individuals’ future discounting. Our results contribute to the debate on whether present bias is positively or negatively related to conservation behavior by showing a positive relation in a replenishment act.

The higher importance of present-biasedness may be considered good news from a policy perspective. Weighing off effort or abstinence today against future benefits not only occurs in our mangrove seed planting task, but is ubiquitous also in other conservation and consumption decisions. Present-biased choices are something the individual herself often regrets. This opens the tool box of “libertarian paternalism”. For instance, individuals may demand commitment devices to bind themselves to replenish natural resources. For example, resource users could be asked now to commit to replenish resources in the future, e.g. by signing up to replenishment activities in the future. Our result that savings group members tend to replenish more calls for further investigations into whether being part of a group might help overcome time-inconsistency in environmental choices.

Link to article: doi.org/10.1016/j.jeem.2020.102368