Promoting lower-carbon lifestyles: the role of personal values, climate change communications and carbon allowances in processes of change
Howell, Rachel Angharad
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Climate change is a pressing problem and substantial reductions in the greenhouse gas emissions that cause it are necessary to avert the worst impacts predicted. The UK has targeted an 80% reduction from 1990 emissions levels by 2050. This thesis investigates how to promote behavioural changes that will reduce emissions associated with individuals’ lifestyles, which comprise a significant proportion of the UK total. The thesis begins by appraising whether and how climate change communications, specifically films, can succeed in changing attitudes and behaviour. The impacts on viewers of the film The Age of Stupid were assessed using a fourstage panel survey. Increased concern, motivation to act, and sense of agency felt immediately after seeing the film did not persist, but respondents reported some behavioural changes. The longer-term follow-up suggests that behavioural intentions do not necessarily translate into action, but also revealed issues concerning the reliability of participants’ causal attributions of their behaviour. These and other challenges of conducting longitudinal studies of behavioural change related to climate change communications are discussed. The thesis then uses a model of behavioural change transposed from health psychology to analyse the processes of change employed or depicted by four climate change films, in order to identify more generally the strengths and limitations of films as means to promote mitigation action, and to demonstrate the potential utility of the model in the field of proenvironmental behaviour change. The issue is then considered from the opposite angle, with an examination of what has motivated individuals who have already adopted lower-carbon lifestyles. Qualitative research reveals that protecting ‘the environment’ per se is not the primary value stimulating most interviewees’ action; typically they were more concerned about the impacts of climate change on people in developing countries. Although analysis of a survey instrument showed that biospheric values are important to the participants, they tended to score altruistic values significantly higher. Thus it may not be necessary to promote biospheric values to encourage lower-carbon lifestyles. The final element of the work involved researching the opinions of members of Carbon Rationing Action Groups, seeking to understand what can be learned from their experiences of living with a carbon allowance, and the implications that the findings may have for potential government policies, especially personal carbon trading. The thesis concludes that, given the scale of action required, the difficulties individuals face when considering whether and how to adopt lower-carbon behaviours, and the limited impact of initiatives such as Carbon Rationing Action Groups and The Age of Stupid beyond a relatively small circle of people who tend to exhibit particular traits (such as a preference for frugality), significant UK emissions reductions will necessitate far-reaching legislation that will impact on everyday practices and behaviour.
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