We need systemic change to tackle climate change – and people are key to making this happen

Posted in: Climate Action Survey 2022

This is the last in our series of posts exploring the results of the Climate Action Survey and taking a closer look at what the University is doing in the areas we asked you about.

In this post, guest author Prof. Lorraine Whitmarsh, Director of CAST and University of Bath environmental psychologist, reflects on what we have learned from the survey about our community's support for climate action and how people are key to making systemic change happen.

Prof. Whitmarsh designed the Climate Action Survey with us, and is also a key member of our Climate Action Advisory Group.

The latest IPCC report published a few weeks ago makes clear that we are not on track to addressing climate change, and that profound societal transformation will be required to meet our climate and other sustainability goals. This is the clearest evidence so far that incremental change won’t cut it, and nor will techno-fixes. What’s needed is radical change to how we live and work, as well as wide-ranging technological change. As our work in CAST also shows, this means people are at the heart of tackling climate change.

The first step to changing what people (including organisations) do, is to engage with them – ask them what motivates them and what would enable them to change. This is why we designed the University’s first ever annual Climate Action Survey in November 2021 to help achieve the goals of our Climate Action Framework. The survey aims were:

(a) To create a baseline for measuring progress on knowledge, engagement and action amongst staff and students; and

(b) To inform the University’s decision-making about how best to cut emissions.

The results from this representative survey of students and staff will help measure progress towards the University’s goals and seek our community’s input towards how we approach the climate emergency.

A series of blog posts over the last few weeks has shared insights from the survey. We have found strong support for action across all University activities:

The blog posts have highlighted where climate action is already underway at the University – for example, rolling out climate literacy education to all new university students, changing the travel expenses policy to restrict short-haul flights, and delivering a sustainable food commitment to expand low-emission and plant-based food options on campus.

But more needs to be done to remove the barriers to behaviour change and deliver the University’s ambitious carbon targets (to be carbon neutral in heating, and electricity by 2030, and to halve emissions from purchased goods and services, waste, and travel by the same date). The survey shows staff and students support making low-carbon options more affordable, convenient, and available, and want more information about making effective choices. These findings mirror those from our surveys of the wider public, and of research on how to achieve societal transformation.

Importantly, one-off engagement is not enough for a fair and effective transition to net zero. People need to be involved in regular discussions about the transition and their role in it; and they need to help deliver this change. These discussions need to spell out costs, benefits, trade-offs, and synergies from different actions. These costs may include disruption to habits and some financial costs, but they also include a range of benefits like health, inclusion, longer-term savings, and climate resilience. The idea of this level of change may be uncomfortable – in fact, it’s a natural human reaction to want to stick with the status quo – but knowing that this change is likely to improve wellbeing, not reduce it, and that we are all invited to be part of the conversation, may help provide reassurance that in this case change is good thing.

As one part of developing this conversation, the Climate Action Survey will run again this November and every year to track our progress and continue to feed the University community’s voice into the development of policies and measures to cut carbon. We hope you’ll have your say again through the survey, but also that you will use your voice whenever you can to encourage leaders, staff and students to act, and to change your own habits to cut carbon

We all need to embrace change, acknowledge that business as usual cannot continue, and respond to this ‘code red for humanity’ with the appropriate level of scale and urgency.

Notes about the survey 
  • This survey was conducted in November 2021.
  • This survey was completed by 3985 respondents, representing 39% of University staff and 11% of students.
  • This survey was commissioned by the Climate Action team with methodology devised and results analysed by Dr Paul Haggar, Prof Lorraine Whitmarsh, Kaloyan Mitev and Hannah Lester.
  • The collated survey data can be accessed by members of the University of Bath community here.
  • If you have any questions about the nature of this survey, please contact climateaction@bath.ac.uk

Posted in: Climate Action Survey 2022


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  • I thank all the students and scientists who are trying to do anything possible to tackle climate change. I am writing to you from a very dry Mediterranean island. The climate is changing here rapidly. If it goes like this, soon this island and other corners of eastern Mediterranean going to be a large desert area.