Dr Steve Cayzer is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, and Climate Action Learning and Teaching Liaison on the Climate Action Steering Group, at the University of Bath. Hannah Hogarth is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Education at the University of Bath. Eliane Bastos is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Education at the University of Bath. Elsa Swetenham is an undergraduate student in the Department of Natural Sciences at the University of Bath.
It is no longer considered radical to declare (as the University of Bath does) that we are living in a climate emergency, and the recent COP26 negotiations highlighted the importance of taking urgent action to tackle climate change. Our Climate Action Framework defines 11 principles including climate neutrality by 2040, and research that supports the transition to net zero carbon.
On the education side, we have a mandate to provide opportunities for every student to study and work on climate related issues and to develop understandings of ways to achieve net zero through individual and collective action. As a first step on this path, we have created a Climate Literacy Induction, including accredited Carbon Literacy training, and this has been offered to every incoming student this academic year, the first University to do so in the UK.
What is Carbon Literacy
Carbon Literacy, as defined by the accrediting organisation The Carbon Literacy Project (CLP), is an ‘awareness of the carbon dioxide costs and impacts of everyday activities, and the ability and motivation to reduced emissions, on an individual, community and organisational basis’. According to the CLP, 23,000 individuals and nearly 2000 organisations have undertaken Carbon Literacy.
At the University of Bath, over 1000 students attended our Climate Literacy webinars during induction week, igniting interesting discussions and debates about ways in which we as both an organisation and as individuals can address climate change. Of these, over 100 students and staff members opted to continue the Climate Literacy training and receive accreditation from the Carbon Literacy project. This training involved calculating individual carbon footprints, considering the impact that various actions have on carbon emissions and engaging in discussions about the responsibility we have to address climate change, through exploring historical as well as current emissions through resources like the carbon map.
What were some of the highlights of the course?
The Climate Literacy course was highly interactive, with students working together and sharing knowledge and experiences. With a highly international community, participants were able to share their direct experiences of climate change and therefore highlight its global relevance and discuss issues around climate justice. Students worked in transdisciplinary groups and were able to discuss climate change, and ways to tackle it, from multiple perspectives.
Another thought provoking activity was based on the ‘postcards from the future’ activity from the Centre for Alternative Technology. These postcards offered a hopeful vision for a carbon zero world, where exercise, green space, and healthier diets led to beneficial outcomes for all. This was a powerful stimulus for action.
Finally, the Carbon Literacy training is very action focused in that participants are challenged to identify pledges both at the individual and group level that deliver meaningful carbon savings.
What actions have been taken so far?
Pledges made include changing diets and cooking habits through sharing of vegan recipes; having ‘vegetarian nights’ and sharing meals; reducing carbon emissions in homes through installing washing lines to prevent using the tumble dryers; or reducing heating in homes by 1-2 degrees to by setting up car sharing schemes.
Estimates about the carbon savings that can occur as a result of these actions are based on the information shared during the programme and are a great incentive to sustain these pledges. For example, reducing meat from 100 grams per day to less than 50 grams per day could mean a saving of one tonne of Carbon Dioxide emissions per person per year (Scarborough et. al. 2014).
For many students who undertook the Climate Literacy programme, it is the start of a journey of activism that will continue throughout their time at University and beyond. For others, it has meant meaningful changes to individual actions and a desire to work with others to make similar changes. We are keen to ensure that taking climate action is based on a narrative of opportunity and hope.
Climate Literacy training is only one part of our education strategy. We are also working to embed climate action into every degree programme at the University, provide extra curricular opportunities (like Vertically Integrated Projects), provide climate themed placement opportunities, and support student volunteering and outreach.
Responding to student interest, we will be offering another opportunity to become carbon literate in January 2022 and will look to scale up the programme further in 2022-23 induction.
Scarborough, P., Appleby, P., Mizdrak, A., Briggs, A., Travis, R., Bradbury, K. and Key, T. (2014). Dietary greenhouse gas emissions of meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians and vegans in the UK. Climatic Change, 125(2), pp.179-192. DOI: 10.1007/s10584-014-1169-1