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Professor Lorraine Whitmarsh

Professor Lorraine Whitmarsh

School of Psychology

Media commentator
Available for postgraduate supervision

I am Professor of Environmental Psychology, and Director of the UK Centre for Climate Change & Social Transformations (CAST).

My expertise lies in public perceptions, communication, engagement, and behaviour (change) in relation to climate change mitigation and adaptation. 

I have led or participated in numerous research and consultancy projects examining public attitudes and behaviour change in relation to climate change, energy, transport, consumption, water, food, conservation, and new or controversial technologies (e.g., smart grids, electric vehicles, unconventional fossil fuels). I have been awarded both a European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grant (CASPI) and a Consolidator Grant (MOCHA) on low-carbon lifestyle change. I am Lead Author for IPCC WGII assessing European climate change impacts and adaptation. I also sit on the National Assembly for Wales' Climate Change Expert Reference Group and am partner coordinator for the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research.

Media and speaking experience

Various press releases, press conference, media interviews, public speaking. Formal media training via MSc in Science, Culture & Communication (Bath University).

Undergraduate education

  • 1997: BA Hons (2.1) Theology and Religious Studies with French, University of Kent

Postgraduate education

  • 2010: Postgraduate Certificate in University Teaching & Learning, Cardiff University
  • 2000: MSc (Distinction) Science, Culture & Communication, University of Bath
  • 2005: PhD Psychology (‘Public Understanding of and Response to Climate Change’), University of Bath

Employment

  • 2012 – present: Professor/Senior Lecturer/Fellow – School of Psychology, Cardiff University.
  • 2009-2012: Lecturer – School of Psychology, Cardiff University.
  • 2009-present: Visiting Fellow/Partner Coordinator – Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research.
  • 2009-present: Research Associate – ESRC Centre for Business Relationships, Accountability, Sustainability & Society (BRASS) and (since 2010) Sustainable Places Research Institute
  • 2009-present: Visiting Fellow – Science Studies Centre, School of Psychology, University of Bath
  • 2005-2009: Senior Research Associate – Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia
  • 2001-2004: Teaching Assistant / Lecturer (part-time) – Department of Psychology, University of Bath
  • 2000-2001: Research Officer – Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, Burghfield, Reading

Honours and awards

  • Best Conference Paper Award at the International Conference on Whole Life Urban Sustainability and its Assessment in Glasgow, 2007
  • Fellow of the Higher Education Academy
  • Visiting scholar, University of Melbourne (Aug-Sep 2011)
  • Living with Environmental Change (LWEC) Public Engagement Strategic Advisory Group (2009-2011)
  • DEFRA expert panel on Sustainable Consumption & Production (SCP; 2010-2012)
  • Approved supplier to Welsh Government for Sustainable Living Framework advice/consultancy (2011-2014)
  • Eon International Research Fund Best Research Project Award (2012)
  • Cardiff University 'Serious Brainpower' Fellowship 2012
  • European Research Council Starting Grant Fellowship 2014

Professional memberships

Committees and reviewing

  • Reviewer for around 50 journals and publishers, including Nature Climate Change; Risk Analysis; Journal of Environmental Psychology; Environment & Behavior; British Journal of Social Psychology; Journal of Applied Social Psychology; Global Environmental Change; Climate Policy; Ecological Economics; Energy & Environment; Energy Policy; Environment & Planning A; Taylor & Francis books; John Wiley & Sons; Sage Publications
  • Grant reviewing: NSF, ESRC, NERC, Austrian Science Fund FWF, Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO); Leverhulme Trust
  • Editorial board: Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews (WIREs) Climate Change:
    PhD examining: Exeter University, Sussex University, Plymouth University, Queensland University of Technology

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Level 1

I give an introductory lecture on environmental psychology in Current Topics in Psychological Research.

Level 3

My lectures in Environmental Psychology cover environmental attitudes and behaviour, risk perception and communication, and recycling and climate change case studies. I supervise final year projects in environmental psychology.

Postgraduate

I give two lectures on the Postgraduate Research Design and Statistics module for research students. The first introduces students to philosophical, ethical and analytical issues in psychological research; the other focuses on conducting mixed-methods research.

I am interested in the psychological and social dimensions of environmental, risk and sustainability issues. My research, which employs both quantitative and qualitative methods of data collection and analysis, focuses on three main areas:

  • public engagement with climate change and low-carbon lifestyles
  • public/stakeholder participation in sustainability science and policy
  • perceived risk and behaviour change with respect to new or controversial technologies (e.g., smart grids, electric vehicles, unconventional fossil fuels).

As well as lecturing in psychology at Cardiff, I am Director of the ESRC-funded UK Centre for Climate Change & Social Transformations (CAST), partner coordinator for the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and an associate of  the Sustainable Places Research Institute at Cardiff University. I am also Lead Author of IPCC WGII and until 2017 was a member of the Climate Change Commission for Wales advising Welsh Government on transport and behaviour change in relation to climate change.

Public engagement with climate change and low-carbon lifestyles

This is the major focus of my research and since 2019 includes a €2m European Research Council (ERC) Consolidator Grant (MOCHA) exploring how sustainable lifestyles can be leveraged at 'moments of change' (e.g., moving house, having a child, extreme weather event). Prior to this, between 2014 and 2019, I held a €1.5m ERC Starting Grant (CASPI) on Low-carbon Lifestyles and Behavioural Spillover. The project was about how environmentally-friendly behaviour, lifestyles and spillover are understood and develop within different cultures. In particular, it tests whether and when behavioural ‘spillover’ happens – in other words, whether taking up one new green behaviour (e.g., recycling) leads on to other green behaviours (e.g., taking your own bags shopping), and if so, under what circumstances. For further details, visit the project webpage.

This strand of research stems from my PhD, which examined public perceptions of, and behavioural responses to, climate change in flood-prone regions in the South of England. I particularly focussed on the roles of language and experience in how people understood and responded to climate change.

Since this time, I have worked on: perceived barriers to engaging with climate change; motivations for, and for not, purchasing carbon offsets; the links between different environmentally-significant behaviours, including whether pro-environmental self-identity predicts spillover effects between behaviours; attitudes to climate change (particularly focussing on uncertainty and scepticism); and perceptions of flood risk. My experimental research has investigated how uncertain information about climate change is perceived and interpreted, and how prior attitudes, values and identity influence this interpretation. Within this research strand, I am also interested in testing novel ways of engaging the public with climate change, including via narratives, creative writing and interactive exhibitions. With Irene Lorenzoni (East Anglia) and Saffron O’Neill (Exeter), I edited a book on Engaging the public with climate change: behaviour change and communication which was published by Routledge in November 2010. This interdisciplinary volume features contributions from academics and practitioners involved in communicating climate change and encouraging low-carbon lifestyles.

In addition, I have received funding from DEFRA, WRAP, Welsh Government, UKRI, Shell, and others for projects on perceptions of climate change and environmental behaviours. This includes projects on: perceptions of climate change risk amongst Welsh community councillors; narratives of sustainability amongst the Welsh public; effectiveness of environmental labelling; impact of the Welsh carrier bag charge; recycling behaviour and spillover effects; motivations for and barriers to uptake of loft insulation; effectiveness of different approaches (informational, social, financial and structural) to encouraging energy-efficient behaviour change amongst students and staff within Higher Education; eco-driving habits; travel goals; perceptions of rivers and ecosystem services; breaking and creating habits for sustainability; Public Attitudes to Environmental Change; and Public Attitudes to Low-Carbon Energy.

Public/stakeholder participation in sustainability science and policy

Within three European (FP6 and FP7) projects, ADAM, MATISSE and REACT, and a Norfolk Rural Community Council grant, I have been involved in developing participatory methods and tools to enable the public and other stakeholders to deliberate over policies and novel technologies and, ultimately, contribute to decision-making about science and policy.

Much of this work was conducted through the MATISSE project (Methods and Tools for Integrated Sustainability Assessment) between 2005 and 2008. The project aimed to advance the science and application of Integrated Sustainability Assessment (ISA) in EU policy-making by improving the tool-kit and methods available for developing and assessing sustainability policies. This work focussed on developing participatory methods and modelling tools to support strategic decision-making in respect of sustainability issues, such as transport and consumption. Literature reviews and stakeholder engagement methods (including expert and citizen focus groups and questionnaires) were used to develop ‘visions’ and ‘pathways’ for sustainable futures in each case study (transport, consumption, water management). In CAST, we are building on this work to explore visions and pathways to low-carbon futures.

Risk perceptions and behaviour change with respect to new technologies

Ongoing work includes several projects exploring public engagement with smart grids, carbon capture and storage (CCS), unconventional fossil fuels (e.g., shale gas), electric vehicles, smart homes, and other novel technologies. This includes two UKERC projects on public attitudes to energy system change and smart grids, two NERC projects on CCS and unconventional fossil fuels, an Eon project on smart homes; and an EU project (eBRIDGE) on promoting shared electric vehicles in European cities.

Current work in the ASSIST project is focussing on public attitudes to shale gas and 'fracking' in the UK, and exploring how these evolve over time and vary across different regions and social groups.

I am interested in the psychological and social dimensions of environmental, risk and sustainability issues. My research, which employs both quantitative and qualitative methods of data collection and analysis, focuses on three main areas: (a) public engagement with climate change, carbon literacy, carbon offsetting, and low-carbon lifestyles; (b) public/stakeholder participation in sustainability science and policy; and (c) innovation and behaviour change with respect to sustainable transport and consumption.

If you are interested in applying for a PhD, or for further information regarding my postgraduate research, please contact me directly (contact details available on the 'Overview' page), or submit a formal application.

Current students

Paul Haggar

Po-Han Hsu (University of East Anglia; Jointly supervised with Irene Lorenzoni and Peter Simmons) Po-Han’s research examines the ways in which new media influences perceptions, group dynamics and behaviours in relation to energy use and climate change.

Tom Homes (York)

Robert Sposato

Merryn Thomas (jointly supervised with Nick Pidgeon and Rhoda Ballinger, EARTH). Merryn’s research focuses on public perceptions of sea-level rise risk within the Severn Estuary.

Kate Walker (jointly supervised with Jose Constantine, EARTH, and Steve Ormerod, BIO). Kate’s research focuses on public perception of habitat management strategies for the freshwater pearl mussel in response to climate-driven environmental change.

Daniel Wheelock