Association for Behavior Analysis International

The Association for Behavior Analysis International® (ABAI) is a nonprofit membership organization with the mission to contribute to the well-being of society by developing, enhancing, and supporting the growth and vitality of the science of behavior analysis through research, education, and practice.


50th Annual Convention; Philadelphia, PA; 2024

Event Details

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Invited Symposium #518A
CE Offered: PSY/BACB
Increasing the Impact of Behavior Science on Climate Change
Monday, May 27, 2024
4:00 PM–5:50 PM
Convention Center, 300 Level, Ballroom A
Area: CSS; Domain: Translational
Chair: M. Christopher Newland (Auburn University)
Discussant: Bill McKibben (Middleburry College)
CE Instructor: M. Christopher Newland, Ph.D.

The threat posed by climate change can be addressed by human behavior. In this symposium, organized in response to the Presidential Scholar Address by Bill McKibben, presenters will examine real and potential contributions from behavior science. Implicit cost-effect calculations and attempts to balance large future benefits and less desirable but more immediate outcomes have climate implications. Brett Gelino will examine how excessive reinforcer valuations and delayed outcomes muddy sustainable preference. Transitioning to climate-friendly policies presents significant challenges to communities with stretched budgets and immediate needs. Tony Biglan will describe the need for more research funding on helping communities address climate change and what such research might look like. Climate change is, of course, both a local and global issue. Susan Schneider will describe small-scale success stories developed from the application of behavior principles while addressing the barriers to scaling these up to larger-scale solutions. Behavior science contributed to the reduction of environmental contaminants like lead and methylmercury. Chris Newland will examine side effects of environmental regulations and show that a cleaner environment is climate-friendly. Finally, Bill McKibben, as discussant, will comment on these developments and offer additional thoughts about where we stand with respect to climate change.

Instruction Level: Intermediate
Target Audience:

All behavior analysts

Learning Objectives: Following this presentation, participants will be able to: 1) Discuss real and potential contributions of behavior analysis to climate change; 2) Describe challenges faced by communities in enacting climate-friendly policies; 3) Describe small-scale success stories and barriers to scaling these up to larger-scale solutions; 4) Discuss some side effects of environmental regulations.
Introductory Comments: A Cleaner Environment is Also a Climate Friendly
(Applied Research)
M. CHRISTOPHER NEWLAND (Auburn University)
Abstract: The clean-air act of 1970 enabled the USEPA to regulate metals such as lead and mercury. This little-known (at the time) provision led to the removal of lead from gasoline and the reduction of atmospheric mercury. Both successes resulted in part from behavioral studies conducted by behavior scientists applying various schedules of reinforcement in experimental models of exposure. The resulting data provided strong support for EPA’s actions in reducing or removing these contaminants. The battle over lead’s removal provides a model for other climate actions. The reduction of mercury has had direct climate benefits because one major source of this profound neurotoxicant is coal-burning power plants.
Dr. Chris Newland is a Distinguished Faculty Lecturer and Alumni Professor at Auburn University where he has conducted research on how exposure to environmental contaminants and drugs influence complex behavior such as choice, delay discounting, acquisition of new behavior, and behavioral flexibility across the lifespan. He participates in a project aimed at reducing the use of psychotropic medication among children in Foster Care. He has served on several editorial boards, Associate Editor for Neurotoxicology, Editor in Chief of Perspectives on Behavior Science, and is currently President of the Association for Behavior Analysis International. Dr. Newland has taught Clinical Psychopharmacology and Behavior Principles in Auburn’s Professional Master’s Program in Applied Behavior Analysis since its inception.
Expanding the Reach of Operant Behavioral Economics in Climate Action
(Applied Research)
BRETT GELINO (Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine)
Abstract: Global climate change poses an urgent threat, one demanding all manners of scientific discourse. Although considerable work remains, 50 years of research by sustainability-concerned behavior analysts has made at least one thing clear: We have much to offer In this conversation. This presentation considers two operant behavioral economic frameworks to expand the reach of behavior analytic contributions in the sustainability movement. Discounting describes the tendency to devalue outcomes as a function of increasing delay or odds against contact. Operant demand describes the defense of baseline (i.e., free cost) reinforcer engagement as a function of increasing “unit price.” These frameworks collectively lend conceptually systematic insights into the various hurdles involved with sustainable choice, hurdles that might be targeted via behavior analytic interventions. Independently applied, these choice arrangements offer tremendous flexibility to pilot novel interventions that could affect change at community levels. We will discuss examples of these methods applied in parallel with conventional behavior analytic single-subject methods, keeping an eye toward applications in the context of community resilience. The presentation will conclude with suggestions to better integrate small-sample and behavioral economic designs to maximize the policy relevance of future empirical efforts.
Brett Gelino is a postdoctoral research fellow with the Behavioral Pharmacology Research Unit at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. He graduated with his PhD in Behavioral Psychology from the University of Kansas in 2022. During his graduate schooling, Brett pursued an education in community, social, and sustainability issues, earning a Professional Science Master’s in environmental assessment and collaborating across disciplines to address topics spanning substance-use disorder, sustainable practice and resilience, and community health. His work has been celebrated for its breadth of focus via departmental recognition and publication in journals of varying disciplinary origins. He recently completed a two-year role guest editing a special section of Behavior and Social Issues focused on climate change resilience. Brett currently serves as a Program Area Coordinator for ABAI’s Community, Social, and Sustainability Issues (CSS) program and as a member of the American Psychological Association’s Climate Change Advisory Group.
Developing Research on Community Interventions to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions
(Applied Research)
ANTHONY BIGLAN (Oregon Research Institute), Andrew C Bonner (Florida State University)
Abstract: Over the past two years we have documented the paucity of experimental evaluations of community interventions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the failure of American federal agencies to fund such research. We believe that the potential of behavioral science research to contribute to preventing climate change is not widely understood and that getting empirical evidence for community interventions to affect emissions would open the door to more research. In this symposium, we will describe the Action Circle we have created that is working on obtaining funding for such research. We will describe what we have learned about funding sources, what progress we have made in securing communities to work in, and what proposals we are submitting to obtain the needed funding. We hope to stimulate more efforts by behavior analysts to work on this problem.
Dr. Biglan is a Senior Scientists at Oregon Research Institute and President of Values to Action. His book, The Nurture Effect: How the Science of Human Behavior Can Improve Our Lives and Our World, won him an award from the Society for the Advancement of Behavior Analysis. Based on the accumulated knowledge about what humans need to thrive, Dr. Biglan created Values to Action, a nonprofit organization that helps communities come together around a shared vision and create Action Circles to implement evidence-based solutions to their most pressing problems.

On Scaling Behavioral Solutions: Barriers Analysis and Interdisciplinary Climate Action

(Applied Research)
SUSAN M. SCHNEIDER (Western Michigan University)

One of the challenges of the climate crisis is the epic range of behavior changes needed. On the community level, school districts, businesses, neighborhoods, health care systems, and local governments all need to move faster toward sustainable practices. While there’s plenty of well-documented success stories, these projects often fail to scale, limiting their impact. This talk covers the range of sustainable behavior change interventions - most of them interdisciplinary - then examines barriers to larger-scale adoption. The field of implementation science focuses on this challenge, and analysis of the contingencies and meta-contingencies is an essential part of such efforts. Having a successful intervention is only the beginning of a lengthy implementation process leading to meaningful large-scale change. Given the IPCC goals for climate action, we are rapidly running out of time to scale up.

Dr. Susan Schneider has 7 years of experience in climate change work, including behavior change projects, academic and nonacademic publications, community organizing and outreach, and extensive public speaking. As Senior Scientist for the nonprofit Root Solutions, Schneider did sustainability work for UC-Berkeley and the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, and coauthored two chapters in its new guidebook, Making Shift Happen: Designing for Successful Environmental Behavior Change. Recent outreach includes a podcast for the Union of Concerned Scientists on learning principles for community climate action. Schneider’s SABA award-winning trade book, The Science of Consequences, covers basic learning principles, their role in nature-nurture relations, and their broad range of applications, including sustainability. It was recently translated into Spanish. Schneider is currently at Western Michigan University and serves on its Climate Change Working Group. She also serves on the Tools of Change Landmark Peer Review Panel for Climate Change, and on the board of nonprofit Green Driving America.



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