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Significant lifestyle shifts required to avoid worst impacts of climate change

12 April 2019

Low carbon image
Family adopting a low-carbon lifestyle.

A five-year study at The School of Psychology has revealed that in order to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, people must adopt a meaningful low-carbon lifestyle change rather than relying on fragmented ‘nudges’ from government and campaigners.

The research, which was conducted as part of the CASPI (Low Carbon Lifestyles and Behavioural Spillover) project at Cardiff University, has spanned five years and 12 countries, and explores how to move beyond small-scale and piecemeal approaches to behaviour change.

The report identified that key developments in carbon reduction, such as the phasing out of coal from the energy mix have happened mostly behind-the-scenes, and have required only limited public engagement. Whereas, many of the challenges that remain involve public support for more far-reaching policy shifts, and the active participation in low-carbon lifestyles.

The research concludes that while there has been some evidence of limited shifts in behaviours, for example reusing plastic bags, low-carbon lifestyles are very far from being the norm. Many of the most significant behaviours in the carbon footprint of a typical British citizen - such as flying or eating red meat - show few signs of progress. With this is mind, five key, evidence-based recommendations are made to help policy-makers and campaigners implement a low-carbon lifestyle.

Professor Lorraine Whitmarsh, who co-authored the research report said: “Very little research has explored what being ‘green’ means in different cultures. Our research is one of the first - and most detailed - cross-national investigations of public concerns, values and actions in relation to the environment. Interviews and/or surveys were conducted in the UK, Denmark, Poland, South Africa, Nepal, India, China, Brazil, US, Canada, Australia and Nigeria with thousands of members of the public. In this report, we present findings from this five-year programme of research, and outline recommendations for how to mainstream low-carbon lifestyles. This will help policy-makers and campaign groups develop more effective ways of communicating climate change and changing behaviours to significantly reduce our carbon footprint’

The report builds on findings from most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change(IPCC), which makes resoundingly clear, rapid societal transitions - including significant shifts in the lifestyles of ordinary people in high-carbon countries like the UK – must take place over the coming years to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. The CASPI project was funded by the European Research Council (ERC).

Download the full report.