Dr Christina Demski

Dr Christina Demski

Lecturer

School of Psychology

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

Research summary

My research interests can broadly be described as examining issues within risk perception and communication, and examining public responses to emerging and complex socio-technical issues. I have particular expertise in public attitudes and acceptability towards environmental and energy issues (eg climate change, energy security, renewable energy). This work is shaped by a strong interdisciplinary perspective using mixed-method research, although I have particular expertise in quantitative survey methods.

My recent and current projects include a focus on:

  • Public values, attitudes and  acceptability of whole energy system transformations, including framing and decision- making with regards to energy futures. This work has a whole systems focus including issues around supply (e.g. renewable technologies), demand (e.g. practices and behaviour) and governance (e.g. demand-side management).
  • Perceptions of costs associated with energy transitions, and the role responsibility and trust play in informing public acceptance.
  • Perceptions and acceptance of energy storage technologies and associated governance models
  • Public perceptions of climate change and low-carbon futures. This aspect of my research includes a broad set of projects including the role of flooding experience for engagement with climate change and framing climate communication messages.

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

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

2013-present: 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.

2018

2017

2015

2014

2013

2012

2011

Teaching summary

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

Year 1: (Level 4/5): I act as 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): I supervise research projects spanning environmental and social psychology, and risk perception.

Postgraduate: I am the Psychology pathway convenor for the MSc/Diploma in  Social Science Research Methods. I also supervise 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 also supervise three 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 part of the UK Energy Research Centre, the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and a member of several Cardiff University Research Institutes (Sustainable Places, Energy Systems, Water).

I am part of the Understanding Risk Research Group which carries out interdisciplinary and multi-method research. The group has  members across departments within Cardiff University and collaborates with a number of other institutions including Nottingham University, Sheffield University and the University of East Anglia.

Below are listed short summaries of my main past and current research projects/interests:

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. 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

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. Some of the main findings are published here, additional findings in relation to publics views on energy companies and who should pay for energy transitions are currently being written up. A policy briefing will follow soon.

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 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.

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

Main paper: Experience of extreme weather affectc climate change mitigation and adaptation responses

This project 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. A practioner report can be found here.

I am also working on a number of smaller projects examining public engagement with climate change in relation to other experiences e.g. tree planting.

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.

 

FUNDING OBTAINED

 EPSRC (£229,095): Work package as part of the UCL-led project “Realising Energy Storage

Technologies in Low-carbon Energy Systems (RESTLESS)” (Co-Investigator with PI Nick Pidgeon; full consortium circa £2 million over 4 years). Awarded October 2015.

ESRC (£198,052): Public perceptions of climate change in the immediate aftermath of major national

flooding. Joint responsibility for writing the ESRC application and delivery lead with Dr. Stuart Capstick (other Co-Investigator Nick Pidgeon). July 2014 – June 2015.

  • o Co-funding from Sustainable Places Research Institute (£30,000) and Climate Change Consortium of Wales (£30,000) resulting in a total of £258,052.

EPSRC/UK Energy Research Centre (£279,988): Energy, the economy and society: Societal preferences, affordability and trust (Co-Investigator with Nick Pidgeon). Awarded 1 May 2014.

Society for Risk Analysis (ca. £500): Postgraduate Student Travel Award. Awarded March 2010.

Cardiff University Graduate College (£1,000): Postgraduate Researcher Initiatives Grant (with

Simon Williams, Social Sciences). Awarded March 2009.

Leverhulme Trust (ca. £50,000): 3-year PhD Studentship. Awarded July 2008.

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.

Current supervision

Daniel Thorman

Research student

Past projects

I am currently supervising the following projects:

  • Primary supervisor for Andrea Mercado Guati Rojo - 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 (April 2018 start)
  • Primary supervisor for Steve Westlake - Leadership and climate change (Sept 2018 start)
  • Co-Supervisor (50%) for Daniel Thorman - Public acceptability of'consumption behaviour within ecological limits:
    degrowth, voluntary simplicity and well-being (Sept 2016 start)

We generally launch research reports associated with our major projects at events aimed at stakeholders and the media. Here is some recent coverage:

Public perception of demand-side management

Our latest paper in Nature Climate Change 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.