Research to Action: Why are climate solutions diffusing so slowly?

45 years ago, OSU Geography gave me all the tools needed for a successful research career and life of public service.

When I was getting my PhD with three powerhouse geographers (Larry Brown, Reg Golledge, and Kevin Cox), I designed a large NSF (National Science Foundation)-funded survey to analyze the diffusion of innovations. We studied four Appalachian counties in Eastern Ohio that were struggling with their coal economies. We tried to explain the slow uptake of superior and greener technologies. Some of the these were energy-efficient, some were regenerative, and others were financial. We spent a whole summer completing a few hundred mail surveys of farmers ­and interviewing a few dozen equipment dealers, bankers, and policymakers. We were testing Larry’s view that communications (the focus of Torsten Hagerstrand, Larry’s advisor) are just one of many triggers. There are also key incumbent firms, disruptive newcomers, change agents, and key infrastructures with non-ubiquitous footprints.

Marilyn Brown with other Ambassadors of Clean Energy, Education, and Empowerment

We were licensed to use SPSS (spatial statistics tool) to complete OLS (ordinary least squares) regressions and I did some original point pattern calculations to test our largely successful hypotheses. The resulting publications strengthened the science of technological change, helped my tenure review in Geography at nearby University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UI-UC), and resulted in yet another book by Larry.

Marilyn Brown at Georgia Tech, 2018

After 15 years in the School of Public Policy at Georgia Tech, I’m now a Regents Professor. Between Illinois and GT, I managed some large research projects at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. This included producing U.S. climate change technology and policy scenarios – one I presented at COP6 at the Hague. I worked on Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Panels and completed a national review of the U.S. Weatherization Assistance Program.

Marilyn Brown and others at IPCC in 2007. Marilyn Brown contributed to the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessment reports for which the IPCC shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.

I also served 2 terms as a Senate-confirmed regulator of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) where I helped bring about the retirement of 18 coal units, the largest single shutdown of coal to date.

Swearing in ceremony for TVA appointment in 2013 (second term)

Along with learning to teach again (!), at Georgia Tech I’ve worked for 3 years as the research lead of the Drawdown Georgia project. And last month, we launched a new survey to explain the laborious uptake of superior and greener technologies in Georgia (sound familiar?), which makes for some interesting flashbacks.

 

We’ve designed a Qualtrics survey to explore hypotheses about our science-based localized climate solutions. And we’ve infused this research with equity questions. Thanks to an on-line panel design, our survey was digitally completed by 1800 Georgia residents in 3 days, well balanced and including an embedded experiment. The data is being examined using open-source RStudio software and a multi-stage model of “willingness to pay” for climate innovations. Combined with the Drawdown Georgia Business Compact and Emissions Dashboard, the scope of our research is broad, creative, and replicable.

Still, many questions will remain unanswered about why climate change solutions are diffusing so slowly. Clearly, we need more OSU-trained geographers.

 

Marilyn A. Brown, PhD, Geography, the Ohio State University, 1977

Regents’ Professor, Georgia Tech

Marilyn Brown

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