Dirty People

Kevin Lewis

September 28, 2022

Polluted humanity: Air pollution leads to the dehumanization of oneself and others
Jiaxin Shi, Xijing Wang & Zhansheng Chen
Journal of Environmental Psychology, forthcoming


Air pollution is a major global environmental issue, yet its psychological consequences have only started to receive attention from scholars. We examined whether and how air pollution would lead to self- and other-dehumanization. Across one field study and five pre-registered experimental studies, we showed that air pollution increased people's dehumanization of themselves (Studies 1–2b) and others (Study 3a-4). Air pollution also increases people's perceived vulnerability to disease (PVD), including perceived infectability (PI) and germ aversion (GA). Further, across our studies, PI consistently accounted for the effect of air pollution on dehumanization (Studies 2a-4). In addition, our findings also supported the roles of negative affect (Study 2b) and disgust (Study 4) in shaping dehumanization in the face of air pollution. Therefore, air pollution not only impairs our physical health but also influences our perception of humanness. We discussed the implications of these findings for the literature on air pollution and dehumanization.

Coal use, air pollution, and student performance
Valentina Duque & Michael Gilraine
Journal of Public Economics, September 2022 


Coal is a primary source of both global energy and air pollution. This paper presents the first causal evidence of the impact of pollution due to coal power plant emissions on cognitive outcomes. Our approach combines rich longitudinal student data with a design leveraging year-to-year coal plant emissions, persistent wind patterns, and also plant closures. We find that every one million megawatt hours of coal-fired power production decreases mathematics scores in schools within ten kilometers by 0.02. Gas-fired plants exhibit no such relationship. Our analysis indicates that declining coal use has affected student performance and test score inequality substantially.

Why win–wins are rare in complex environmental management
Margaret Hegwood, Ryan Langendorf & Matthew Burgess
Nature Sustainability, August 2022, Pages 674–680


High-profile modelling studies often project that large-scale win–win solutions are widely available, but practitioners are often sceptical of win–win narratives, due to real-world complexity. Here we bridge this divide by showing mathematically why complexity makes win–wins elusive. We provide a general proof that increasing the number of objectives, the number of stakeholders or the number of constraints decreases the availability of win–win outcomes (here meaning Pareto improvements). We also show that a measure of tradeoff severity increases in the number of objectives. As the number of objectives approaches infinity, we show that this tradeoff severity measure approaches a limit unaffected by the curvature of the tradeoff surface. This is surprising because concave tradeoff-surface curvature results in less severe tradeoffs with fewer objectives. Our theory suggests that this difference gradually dissipates as objectives are added. In a meta-analysis, we show that 77% of empirically estimated two-objective tradeoff surfaces are concave. We then show how to approximately extrapolate our tradeoff severity measure to higher numbers of objectives, starting from estimated tradeoffs between fewer objectives. Our results provide modellers with precise intuition into practitioners’ scepticism of win–win narratives and practitioners with guidance for assessing the implications of simple tradeoff models.

The Human Perils of Scaling Smart Technologies: Evidence from Field Experiments
Alec Brandon et al.
NBER Working Paper, September 2022


Smart-home technologies have been heralded as an important way to increase energy conservation. While in vitro engineering estimates provide broad optimism, little has been done to explore whether such estimates scale beyond the lab. We estimate the causal impact of smart thermostats on energy use via two novel framed field experiments in which a random subset of treated households have a smart thermostat installed in their home. Examining 18 months of associated high-frequency data on household energy consumption, yielding more than 16 million hourly electricity and daily natural gas observations, we find little evidence that smart thermostats have a statistically or economically significant effect on energy use. We explore potential mechanisms using almost four million observations of system events including human interactions with their smart thermostat. Results indicate that user behavior dampens energy savings and explains the discrepancy between estimates from engineering models, which assume a perfectly compliant subject, and actual households, who are occupied by users acting in accord with behavioral economists’ conjectures. In this manner, our data document a keen threat to the scalability of new user-based technologies.

Air pollution and political trust in local government: Evidence from China
Yao Yao et al.
Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, September 2022


While it is well-established that air pollution damages health and inhibits productivity, the political cost of air pollution remains poorly understood. We estimate the causal effect of air pollution on political trust in local government in China, which underpins the stability of the authoritarian state. Combining a nationally representative longitudinal survey with satellite derived PM2.5 concentrations, we find that a one μg/m³ exogenous increase in PM2.5 concentrations, due to atmospheric thermal inversion, reduces trust in local government by 4.1 per cent of one standard deviation. This implies that if China were to reduce PM2.5 emissions to the annual standard of 35 μg/m³ mandated by the Chinese government, this would boost trust in local government by 21.2 per cent evaluated at the mean. We examine the underlying transmission channels and find that prolonged exposure to PM2.5 lowers citizens’ life satisfaction and evaluation of local government performance, induces adverse health effects, imposes additional financial burden and, albeit to a lesser extent, reduces household income.

Product-Harm Crises and Spillover Effects: A Case Study of the Volkswagen Diesel Emissions Scandal in eBay Used Car Auction Markets
Xiaogang Che, Hajime Katayama & Peter Lee
Journal of Marketing Research, forthcoming


The Volkswagen emissions scandal began in 2015, when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that diesel cars produced by Volkswagen from 2009 through 2015 were in violation of emissions standards. We analyse the impact of this announcement on transaction prices for Volkswagen cars on the U.S. eBay Motors. The main focus is on Volkswagen cars other than the 2009-2015 diesel models, namely, vehicles that did not violate EPA standards, allowing us to assess whether the negative shock received by the emissions standards violators spilled over to other Volkswagen models that were in compliance. Our difference-in-differences results show that final bid prices declined after the announcement by 14% for non-violating diesel cars and 9% for non-violating gasoline cars. Our analysis also provides little evidence of considerable changes in the numbers of participating bidders, bidding strategies, numbers of listings, and reserve-price strategies, suggesting that the drops in prices likely resulted from lowered willingness to pay from buyers.

Environmental impassivity: Blunted emotionality undermines concern for the environment
Logan Bickel & Stephanie Preston
Emotion, forthcoming


The average American believes in climate change, worries about it, and supports related policy, but there are still considerable differences — across individuals and with political ideology — that limit the ability to foster change. Researchers and practitioners often increase concern and action for others through feelings of empathy, which also increases pro-environmentalism. However, some people appear less emotionally impacted by environmental destruction — particularly more ideologically conservative and less pro-environmental individuals. To determine why some people appear to be impassive to environmental destruction, we conducted 3 online studies to measure beliefs and emotional processes in political liberals versus conservatives. Across 3 studies, we replicated the link between impassivity and conservatism, and found that more impassive people acknowledge our negative impact on the environment but are less concerned about it and more confident in an eventual solution. Impassivity, however, is not specific to the environment. People who are more impassive about the environment also respond less emotionally to positive and negative images that are unrelated to the environment, including human suffering and hedonic reward. They also report reduced trait empathy, perspective taking, and daily emotional expression and experience. Impassivity is not linked to differences in trait personal distress, anxiety, psychopathy (apart from low empathy), or trouble appreciating consequences. Impassivity is not associated with deficits in processing others’ facial emotion during early perceptual decoding but is associated with the later suppression of emotion. Everyone will not respond to emotional appeals to help a distressed environment. Other strategies are recommended to reach a broad audience.

The price effects of greening vacant lots: How neighborhood attributes matter
Desen Lin, Shane Jensen & Susan Wachter
Real Estate Economics, forthcoming


We identify the effects of greening vacant lots on nearby housing prices and show how neighborhood attributes matter to these outcomes. Using data from a longstanding program in Philadelphia, we find that prices for houses within 1,000 feet of a greened vacant lot rise by about 4%, consistent with the literature, with the effect size increasing over time. Using the extensive data available in Philadelphia, we show how these effects vary by the attributes of the neighborhood in which they occur, with larger effects in areas with a high share of vacant land and higher-than-average median household incomes, with peak responses estimated at 19% and 15%, respectively. We demonstrate the importance of sample selection bias adjustment for identification of the effect of vacant lot greening.


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