By Holly Giles
Last week the Centre for Climate Change and Social Transformations (CAST) was officially opened in Cardiff. This £5 million centre has been designed to research methods for individuals to reduce their carbon emissions, carbon footprint and environmental impact. The ultimate aim is empowering people to make changes to their lifestyle for the good of the environment and then to pass these changes on to others. Despite being based in Cardiff, the centre is a global collaboration between universities at Cardiff, Manchester, York, East Anglia and Utrecht (Netherlands) and the Climate Outreach charity. The centre is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, the professor of which, Jennifer Rubin, promoted the need for the centre in her statement: “This is a really important centre to be funding because of its strong focus on developing and testing effective approaches to communicating climate change and its effects. Despite the urgent need to tackle climate change, researchers know that people rarely talk about it on a day-to-day basis – this means opportunities for meaningful dialogue and practical responses relevant to people’s everyday lives are missed”.
Notably, this week the centre received words of encouragement and support from climate activist, Greta Thunberg. The sixteen year-old first gained traction with her “schools strike for climate” movement which has now sky-rocketed and led to her being asked to speak in front of various governments. Most recently, at the UN Climate Summit last week. In a video to CAST she said: “I think what you’re trying to achieve with CAST is extremely important and essential because we need to take drastic measures to change our lifestyles and our current social and economic system because we cannot go on like we are today, it is too unsustainable. So, I wish you the best of luck. Continue, I stand behind you.” This public encouragement from Miss Thunberg will no doubt have boosted staff morale within the centre and reminded them of the importance of their work. For the public this statement offers hope that action is being taken to counteract climate change and that people are responding to the calls of action represented by our news.
In 2018, the CAST centre surveyed 2018 people with their attitudes towards climate change. They found more than 60% of participants said climate change requires a “high” or “extremely high” level of urgency. Furthermore, over half suggested limiting meat consumption and two thirds supported limiting air travel. The director of the centre, Professor Lorraine Whitmarsh, responded to the survey with the statement: “Our new survey findings make clear that most people feel climate change is an urgent issue, and are willing to make significant changes to their own lifestyles to help tackle it. Changing travel and food habits are amongst the most impactful thing individuals can do to reduce their carbon footprint – it’s very encouraging that there’s support amongst the public for these changes.” These points of public influence have also been promoted by Miss Thuberg who is an ambassador for veganism and has recently been part of the flight-shaming movement, as detailed in last week’s copy of Gair Rhydd. Food consumption, diet and travel methods are key points of research for the centre as well as the thermoregulation of buildings, energy use and the consumption of goods. They say these are areas of everyday life with a direct impact on the environment but have previously shown a difficulty to be changed.
A key goal of the centre is to “bring about social change at all levels of society” as they believe this is the way to create lasting and effective changes to communities. In response to this the centre has four themes which they hope will help them engage with the wider community and to be able to modify their outreach to maximise its effect. These themes are: visioning, which seeks to understand the preferred ideas of the public for methods of lowering carbon emissions with public engagement and system modelling; learning, which looks at the reasons for our current situation and looks at historic experiences of social change and transformation for previous influences on the public and from it to take advice; trialling, this has a “learn by doing methodology” where projects work directly with households to see the behavioural changes in response to different stimuli and methods; and finally engaging, which teaches the public at various groups and levels of the information gathered in themes 1-3 and the most efficient methods to reduce our environmental impact. The centre believes with this combination of four themes they can “transform the way we live our lives, and reconfigure organisation and cities” (Laura Whitmarsh, CAST director).
With the high calibre of universities the centre is forged from and the public backing of Miss Thunberg means the centre has got off to a flying start. However, we are far from seeing the results of the centre. The nature of social engagement and attempts to change the perceptions and attitudes of society are always long-term projects which take a generation or more to change. Themes 1 to 4 offer a promising plan to change the emissions of our city, country and world but their achievability is something only time will tell.