Research on aspects of Ireland’s environment consumer behaviour and health: ESRI environment research programme 2016–2018
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This study brings together a diverse set of research topics in which the environment interacts with economic and social processes. Its results are reported under three headings, each capturing a different approach to gathering evidence:
- assembling data from many sources to characterise policies that affect the environment;
- transforming and combining existing data in new ways to allow analysis that is more robust; and
- collecting new data that relate human behaviour to environmental conditions and outcomes.
The research identified a beneficial relationship between urban green space and obesity risk. Positive associations were demonstrated between use of green space and indicators of both physical health and generalised well-being, and detailed information was provided about which attributes might help encourage more use of urban parks.
Evidence was found of significantly higher lung cancer rates among older people in Ireland living in areas classified with the second-highest level of radon risk. Other results were suggestive of a protective effect from remediation activities in the zone with the highest radon risk.
Statistical analysis showed that the property market values both proximity to and views of coastal blue space, and older people living in areas with the highest share of coastal views in their total viewshed reported a significantly lower risk of depression.
The research illustrated the scale of urban sprawl in Ireland over recent years, pointing the way towards more sophisticated modelling of what drives sprawl and how it relates to property markets, local employment patterns and a range of related policies.
Behavioural experiments demonstrated that consumers (both adults and secondary school children) responded differently to environmental information depending on how it was displayed, and the conditions under which choices were made could also affect the choices themselves.
The report recommends that the environmental impact of the fiscal system should be studied more carefully, as some measures have significant environmental costs, and that positive environmental effects of fiscal measures should also be explicitly acknowledged and considered in decision-making.
Future research on the health benefits of urban green spaces should incorporate the accessibility of green space. To increase utilisation of public parks, urban councils should consider increasing the provision of visitor facilities within parks and, as higher levels of green and blue space visiting are associated with improved health outcomes, there may be a case for using public health budgets to help finance investment in public parks.
There may be options for making radon awareness campaigns more effective at influencing behaviour. To design the best mix of policies, it will be important to understand why many people in high-risk areas do not invest in radon protection measures. Regulatory policy options could also be considered.
Future research on how blue space affects mental health would be useful. The market values coastal amenities highly, so property taxes might make a contribution to maintaining them. Measuring the effects of blue space views and proximity on residential house prices and rents can help inform local infrastructure cost–benefit trade-offs and other planning implications.
The development of sprawl should be tracked over time in Ireland using a consistent methodology. Future research should examine the factors encouraging sprawl, such as the effects of housing supply conditions on commuting flows.
The context in which consumers make decisions is important for considering how best to provide them with information on environmental matters. As choices are sensitive to context, it may be helpful to pretest some types of environmental information interventions before applying them in a regulatory context.