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Dr Christina Demski

Dr Christina Demski

Senior Lecturer

School of Psychology

Email
demskicc@cardiff.ac.uk
Telephone
+44 (0)29 2087 6020
Campuses
Tower Building, 70 Park Place, Cardiff, CF10 3AT
Users
Available for postgraduate supervision

Overview

Research summary

I am Deputy Director of the new ESRC-funded Centre for Climate Change and Social Transformations (CAST). I am the theme 1 lead exploring visions of desirable and feasible low-carbon futures.

My research interests can broadly be described as examining risk perception, communication, and public engagement with emerging and complex socio-technical issues. I have particular expertise in public attitudes and acceptability towards environmental and energy issues, as well as low-carbon futures. 

My work is shaped by a strong interdisciplinary perspective using mixed-method research including quantiative survey methods and qualititative deliberative methods.

Please see the Research tab for a description of my past and current projects.

I have received funding from the ESRC, UKERC, EPSRC, Leverhulme Trust, and Welsh Government for this work.

Biography

Undergraduate education

2005-2008: BSc Psychology, Cardiff University, UK. First  Class Honours.

Postgraduate education

2008-2011: PhD in Environmental Psychology, Cardiff  University, UK. (Funding through the Leverhulme Trust)

Employment

May 2020- present: Part-time secondment as Net Zero Public Engagement Advisor to the Department of Business, Energy and                                   Industrial Strategy (BEIS)

2019 - present: Senior Lecturer, School of Psychology, Cardiff University

2013 - 2019: Lecturer, School of Psychology, Cardiff  University.

2011-2013: Research Associate, Understanding Risk Research  Group, Cardiff University, UK. Project: Transforming the UK energy system:  Public values, attitudes and acceptability (NERC/UKERC).

Aug-Dec 2010: Consultant on Research Synthesis for RCUK:  Public Attitudes to and Engagement with Low-Carbon Energy.

2008-2011: Postgraduate Tutor, School of Psychology, Cardiff  University.

Publications

2021

2020

2019

2018

2017

2015

2014

2013

2012

2011

Teaching

Teaching summary

I have completed a Posgraduate Certificate in University Teaching and Learning and have had or currently have the following roles:

Year 1: (Level 4/5): Tutor to Year 1 students including personal and academic tutorials.

Year 2: (Level 5): Social Psychology lectures on Social Cognition; Social Psychology  practicals; personal and academic tutorials and associated Year 2  coursework and exams. 

Year 3/4 (level 6): Supervision of research projects spanning environmental and social psychology, and risk perception. Ad hoc lectures on environmental psychology.

Postgraduate: Psychology pathway convenor for the MSc/Diploma in  Social Science Research Methods. Supervision of MSc dissertations and coordinate the psychology research placement module for this course. I have also provide ad-hoc teaching including lectures on philosophical and analytical issues in  psychological research, with a specific focus on mixed-method research.

I supervise PhD students conducting research into voluntary simplicity, degrowth and well-being; leadership and climate change; and public perceptions of ammonia for use in energy systems.

Research topics and related papers

I am Deputy Director for the CAST Centre - the Centre for Climate Change and Social Transoformations - which launched in May 2019. I am leading theme 1 of the research programme on vision low-carbon futures. A series of briefings on public perceptions of climate change and low-carbon futures is published here.

We are also currently doing research into the use of citizen assemblies on climate change

My research also speaks to the importance of early and meaningful public engagement with climate change and energy issues. As part of my secondment to BEIS as Net Zero Public Engagement Advisor, I wrote a note on Public Engagement and Participation with Net Zero.

I am also part of the UK Energy Research Centre, the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research.

Public perceptions of low-carbon heating

I am involved in a number of projetcs that explore public perceptions, experiences and acceptance of heating and cooling technologies. This is one key area of interest as part of my work in CAST, as well as a new project part of UKERC; this work is currently ongoing and we will be collecting data in 2022. I will also examine public perceptions of future cooling needs in a new project called Flex-Cool-Store.

As part of this I have a recent publication examining public attitudes towards heat across a number of European countries.

Transforming the UK Energy System: Public Values, Attitudes, and Acceptability

Main paper: Public Values for Energy System Change. A stakeholder report was also produced.

This project investigated public values, attitudes and acceptability with regards to transitioning to a low carbon energy system funded by the UK Energy Research Centre (NERC). The project involves an  interdisciplinary team across three major work packages including stakeholder interviews, public deliberative workshops, and a national survey – the latter  being the particular focus of my research. This large nationally-representative survey used an innovative design and an energy futures scenario-building tool (“My2050”) to engage publics with this complex  topic (published in Nature Energy). In addition, I played a key part in an extensive synthesis analysis across the different research phases, examining public values for energy system change and energy futures (see main paper and report links above).

Overall, the project stipulates that the processes involved in energy system change (driven by needs to address climate change, energy security, affordability, and infrastructure renewal) entail considerable uncertainties. One aspect of change about which there are wide-ranging uncertainties is that of public attitudes and acceptability - of critical importance with the potential to present both opportunities and challenges for the delivery of energy policy and change across multiple areas. For example, considering public values can improve decision-making, can avoid views becoming entrenched, and potentially helps to improve dialogue and identify points of significant future conflict.

The core conclusion from the research is that the British public wants and expects change with regard to how energy is supplied, used and governed. Members of the public are positive about the need for energy system change. Within this, the research has illuminated a wide range of novel insights on public attitudes regarding: energy policy drivers; elements of energy system change; and the underlying values and principles that people draw on when engaging with this issue.

Other papers from this project examine how we designed a large scale citizen engagement process for energy policy, public perception of demand-side management, and how public acceptance is a form of indeterminant uncertainty with important implications for policy decision-making.

Financing energy transitions: Public acceptance, responsibility and trust

In January 2019 we published a policy briefing summarising the main findings and recommendations of this project. It can be accessed here.

The previous project (above) developed a model of the core values underlying societal preferences for sustainable system transitions, highlighting how these are also bound up with people’s views on the current governance, financing and energy charging arrangements. For example, some elements of the current structures are particularly opaque for citizens, such as the relationship between generators, suppliers and the infrastructure/grid owners in matters of charging, infrastructure renewal and other costs, as are the roles of the regulator and government in ‘policing’ these issues on behalf of society. In addition, widespread distrust in energy companies strongly influences beliefs about who holds the responsibility for financing and delivering change. All of these issues bear upon the ‘social licence to operate’ that industry and government will need for delivering long-term transitions.

Specifically, the previous research highlights the importance of thinking about the conditionals and contingencies associated with public acceptability and how these are rooted in the identified value system associated with desirable energy system change. As such, public perspectives on cost and affordability were deemed to be much more multi-dimensional than simple concerns about least cost or low energy bills. In addition, little is known about the public’s thoughts on the extent to which government, energy companies, industry broadly, and the general public are responsible for funding this transition.  To the degree that the general public is responsible, little knowledge exists about the ways in which they see themselves contributing to the transition.

As such, in this project we have examined public perceptions of energy costs, especially focusing on how publics distribute and ascribe roles and responsibilities for funding transitions among different actors in the energy system (e.g. government, private business, consumers); and to what extent these judgements relate to perceived values and motives, and perceptions of trust in relation to those actors.

We conducted a national survey and focus groups across the UK. We published analysis on the relationship between justice and public acceptance of energy transition costs and an in-depth analysis of qualitative work which revealed how people's views on profits, transparency and responsibility explain (dis)trust of governemnt and the energy industry. This also led to another publication, which examined public conceptualisation of energy as a basic need and right.

Public energy security concerns

Throughout many of my research projects I have developed a specific interest in public engagement with and perception of energy security issues. Original research during my PhD (published in Energy Policy) found that people are unfamiliar with the term and concept of ‘energy security’. Nonetheless, certain aspects of energy security are highly salient in public discourse including the affordability of energy, as well as import and fossil fuel dependence.

I am also interested in how energy security concerns relate to a variety of energy supply and demand-side issues.

Finally, my recent collaboration has resulted in an analysis of European Social Survey data on perceptions of energy security, comparing these across 23 countries, which was published in Nature Energy. We find that national context is a key determinant of energy security concerns, including energy specific context (e.g. level of energy imports or energy prices) as well as wider economic and human wellbeing context.

Public perception and attitudes toward energy storage technologies

Traditionally fossil fuels have been used to rapidly match electricity supply with demand. Along side agreements with large industrial energy users and minimal storage infrastructure this has been sufficient to ensure energy is available on demand. As we transition towards an energy system based on intermittent renewables and less flexible nuclear or biomass generation, challenges are likely to arise in matching supplies of intermittent or inflexible low carbon electricity generation with demand while maintaining stability on electricity transmission and distribution networks. The RESTLESS project aims to understand how novel energy storage technologies can be integrated into the UK energy system to support renewable generation in the future. In this project we are examining public perceptions of energy storage and systems flexibility. Through a series of deliberative workshops we are examining how the deployment of a broad range of potential storage technologies are perceived across different scales, from deployment in homes and communities to larger scale deployments on the electricity transmission network. More specifically we are exploring the risks and benefits members of the public perceive in relation to energy storage, as well as how different models for governing energy systems flexibility and storage are received. Key issues emerging from the analysis have been around environmental, health and safety impacts, perceived naturalness and wider issues relating to equity, justice, dependence and control. We have published our main findings on the social acceptability of energy storage technologies as well as a more focused analysis of energy justice discources.

Public perception of and engagement with climate change: the role of personal experiences

This line of research started with a project that considers the role of extreme weather as a critical influence on people's understanding of climate change. Although a number of studies have looked at how wider meteorological conditions (e.g. day-to-day temperature) can affect people's views on climate change, there is little research that examines the role of extraordinary or extreme weather events in  affecting public opinion. We are interested in this topic because there is reason to believe that extreme weather events may have a particularly pronounced effect on people's attitudes. We also see this focus as relevant because climate change is itself predicted to lead to more frequent and severe extreme weather around the world, including increased incidence of floods across the UK.

Our research is designed to examine people's perceptions of climate change shortly after the occurrence of major national flooding in parts of the UK in early 2014. We carried out a large survey across Great Britain through which we can measure people's views about the flooding and about climate change, and how these are connected. We also held a workshop focusing on how to communicate increased risks of flooding in the context of climate change. The main paper analysing how experience affects public perceptions of climate change can be found here. A practioner report can be found here.

Since then I have also published a conceptual paper and a number of other analyses:

- How personal experience affects perceptions of and decisions related to climate change: a psychological view

- Attribution matters: Revisiting the link between extreme weather experience and climate change mitigation responses

- The resilience paradox: flooding experience, coping and climate change mitigation intentions

- The causal effect of flood experience on climate engagement: evidence from search requests for green electricity

Public perceptions of climate risk, adaptation options and resilience (RESiL RISK)

This project was funded under the UK Climate Resilience Programme.

This report summarises topline findings from a nationally representative survey conducted in October 2019 with 1,401 British respondents to examine public perceptions of climate change, its associated impacts, and to map public support for climate change adaptation and resilience building strategies. The survey results provide evidence for a shift in perceptions among the British public towards greater concern and a general willingness to support steps to address the issue. By comparing the current survey results to previous studies conducted in 2010, 2013 and 2016, this report illustrates how public beliefs have altered over recent years.

PhD Thesis – Public perceptions of renewable energy technologies:  Questioning the notion of widespread support.

My thesis investigated public perception of renewable energy technologies in the context of climate change and energy  security using a mixed-method approach drawing on both psychological theories (e.g.  attitude-behaviour theories), and more constructivist approaches in the field  of socio-technological transitions. In this research I focused particularly on  the conditional nature of support associated with renewable energy in general,  and wind farms in particular.

Supervision

I am interested in supervisiring PhD students in the broad area of public perceptions and acceptance of energy and environment issues including emerging risk issues and technologies. I am also interested in public engagement with climate change and low-carbon lifesyles.

I am currently supervising the following projects:

  • Public perception of ammonia-based systems: An understanding of concerns and attitudes towards the use of NH3 as a potential future energy storage or production fuel 
  • Leadership and climate change
  • The role of universityies and academics in the climate emergency
  • Public acceptability of'consumption behaviour within ecological limits degrowth, voluntary simplicity and well-being

Current supervision

mercado guati rojo

Andrea M. Guati Rojo

Research student

Steve Westlake

Steve Westlake

Research student

alt

Briony Latter

Research student

Media

Many of our stakeholder reports and briefings receive media coverage. Some past examples are listed here:

Public perception of demand-side management

A Nature Climate Change article on Public  Perceptions of Demand Side Management (DSM) received some great coverage, e.g.  articles in the Guardian, the New Scientist and The  Sunday Telegraph.

An interesting aspect of this analysis revealed that  people with affordability concerns about energy are less likely to accept  demand-side management measures, and this is partly explained by a lower  willingness to share their energy data. We will be following this up in our new  project examining public perceptions of energy costs and related issues (e.g.  fairness, trust).

Perceptions of Climate Change after the 2013/2014 Floods

We launched some of our latest survey findings at the Royal Society on 29th January  2015, which was well received by an audience of academics, policy makers and  NGOs and resulted in lively discussions.  

In association with the launch of this report we also received some  good press coverage - see for example the BBC, the Guardian and the Independent.

In this research we find that public belief in climate change has increased  since our last surveys and is at its highest in 10 years according to our  tracker questions.  Most people seem to be linking the extreme floods in  late 2013 and early 2014 to climate change and think that these are a sign  of things to come. To some extent, the 'psychological distance’ associated with  climate change seems to be reduced for those with direct flooding experience.  Those with flooding experiences see climate change as more personally relevant  compared to a national sample.

Public values and attitudes towards energy system change

The findings of this project was first published by a comprehensive stakeholder report, which synthesised findings from three project work packages including expert interviews, public deliberative workshops across the UK and a nationally representative survey. The core output includes a set of values which underpin public perspectives on energy system change. These values are useful in explaining when and how people accept or reject specific changes required to reach decarbonisation goals.

The launch of this report received press coverage including the BBC, New Scientist, The Guarduan, The Independent, The Daily Mail, and Wales Online, as well as a number of local and specialist news websites.