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Humans may be the dominant cause of global temperature rise, but they may also be a crucial factor in helping to reduce it, according to a new study that for the first time builds a novel model to measure the effects of behavior on climate.

Drawing from both social psychology and climate science, the new model investigates how human behavioral changes evolve in response to extreme climate events and affect global temperature change.

Louis J. Gross, director of the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS), which is based at UT, co-authored the paper. The study was published this week in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Gross is the James R. Cox Professor and Alvin and Sally Beaman Distinguished Professor in UT’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. He also holds an appointment in the Department of Mathematics.

The study’s results demonstrate the importance of factoring human behavior into models of climate change.

The model accounts for the dynamic feedbacks that occur naturally in the earth’s climate system—temperature projections determine the likelihood of extreme weather events, which in turn influence human behavior. Human behavioral changes, such as installing solar panels or investing in public transportation, alter greenhouse gas emissions, which change the global temperature and thus the frequency of extreme events, leading to new behaviors, and the cycle continues.

“It is easy to lose confidence in the capacity for societies to make sufficient changes to reduce future temperatures,” Gross said. “When we started this project, we simply wanted to address the question as to whether there was any rational basis for hope—that is, a rational basis to expect that human behavioral changes can sufficiently impact climate to significantly reduce future global temperatures.”

Read more about the study on the NIMBioS website.