Hi Reddit, I'm Prof. Lorraine Whitmarsh from the University of Bath in the United Kingdom.

For the past 20 years, I have studied how people respond to the environment and environmental issues. I am particularly interested in what people think, feel and do in relation to climate change, and how we can encourage public engagement and behaviour change to help reduce our emissions and adapt to climate change impacts, like floods and droughts. My research projects have included studies of energy efficiency behaviours, waste reduction and carrier bag reuse, perceptions of smart technologies and electric vehicles, low-carbon lifestyles, and responses to climate change.

For the last 18 months, I’ve directed the UK’s Centre for Climate Change & Social Transformations (CAST) which aims to understand the role people can play in tackling climate change and develop more effective ways of changing behaviour, organisations and policies to reduce carbon emissions. I’ve also recently been an expert lead for Climate Assembly UK, the UK’s first citizen’s assembly on climate change, which brought together a representative group of 108 members of the public to explore and debate climate change solutions and produce recommendations for how the UK can reach ‘net zero’ emissions by 2050.

I regularly advise governmental and other organisations on low-carbon behaviour change and climate change communication, and am a Lead Author for the IPCC’s Working Group II Sixth Assessment Report.

Please Ask Me Anything!

Proof: https://www.flickr.com/photos/uniofbath/50609317737/in/dateposted/

Please let us know if you have any feedback on this AMA.

Comments: 279 • Responses: 12  • Date: 

baltikorean93 karma

It's always felt like residential environmental efforts pale in comparison to what could be done commercially. For example telling households to stop using sprinklers on their lawns (which is fair) compared to the shit ton of water need for almonds and what not.

I guess my question is, are you more focused on Joe Ordinary and how he responds, or a more holistic focus on how everyone could do their part regardless of their contributions to the economy?

UniversityofBath86 karma

Great question - you raise an important point. I see 'behaviour change' as covering not just what individual citizens / consumers do, but also what people do in the various roles they occupy, including as members of communities, employees, leaders, etc. So, I think we need system change - but I think essentially it's people that make that happen. It's not just about directly cutting emissions (e.g., avoiding flights, turning off sprinklers), it's about using influence wherever you have it - e.g., voting for green politicians, protesting, having conversations with neighbours or colleagues, avoiding polluting suppliers at work... so, yes, it's up to everyone and we each probably have more power than we think!

domanonymously50 karma

Psychologist in Climate Change?

UniversityofBath54 karma

Yup. It's a growing field... actually I'd say all psychologists have skills that can be applied to addressing climate change, because it's fundamentally a human problem. And there's growing evidence it can impact on people's mental (as well as physical) health, so clinical psychologists have plenty to offer too...

oKennYo38 karma

Can you give us some good news? I feel like with environment people usually focus on the sad and bad stuff that is happening. Isn't there anything good worth mentioning?

UniversityofBath90 karma

Yes! The good news is that people and governments *are* starting to take action on climate change (check out some nice examples here: https://www.count-us-in.org/) and that taking action on climate change has lots of other benefits, like being healthier, (often) cheaper, and more sociable. Being low-carbon is starting to be more normal and more attractive... though there's definitely a way to go. I'm optimistic we'll avoid the worst impacts, and hopefully will have better, happier lives as a result.

uburoy17 karma

What are some of the straightforward behavior changes we can share and discuss with family, friends and coworkers?

UniversityofBath25 karma

Thanks for this question. I really like Grantham's top 9 things you can do: https://www.imperial.ac.uk/stories/climate-action/

These include: making your voice heard (e.g., lobbying your politician, encouraging managers to act); cutting down on red meat and dairy; flying and driving less; cutting energy at home, etc. And lots of these things have other benefits - e.g., they improve your health, save you money, bring you closer to others... so it can help to emphasise these other reasons for acting (as well as highlighting that alot of other people are already taking these actions) when you're talking to others about what they can do.

totonio1000014 karma

What are your thoughts on the climate issue regarding that even though people are responsible for consuming, companies are the ones who are producing in the first place? And how we the consumers can change if the companies aren't changing at the rate they should? I'm a (very worried) brazilian and here, the difference in price between sustainable stuff and regular stuff is unbelievable. Even some "sustainable" companies sell their things for high prices just because people like me in middle class are willing to pay.. please, give some advice. Thanks in advance!

UniversityofBath16 karma

Thanks for the question. It can be hard to judge which companies are really 'green' so we definitely need more transparency and better reporting. But as a quick answer (I'm out of time!) one of the best things you can do to cut your carbon footprint is to buys *less* of everything... so if you can find products that last longer and avoid replacing them, and share and repair more, that would be better than buying more 'green' stuff. Good luck :)

SmalltimePluto14 karma

What sparked your interest into the climate initially?

UniversityofBath52 karma

Thanks for the question! Ages ago, I did my undergrad degree in religious studies because I'm interested in people's beliefs; and learnt about how people make sense of the world around them (drawing on science, beliefs, experience, etc) and this led to wanting to know more about why some people are worried about environmental problems and some aren't... so in my Masters degree and PhD I decided to focus on climate change because there'd be alot of flooding around that time (2003) and climate change was starting to get some media coverage... and tested out whether people who'd been flooded were any more concerned about climate change than other people, and found they weren't! And I've stuck with this issue since then as it's not just interesting, but also it's increasingly a major problem for the world - and ultimately i like to think my research might be of some use to solving it :)

Annual-Mud-98710 karma

Do you think the UK (or other countries) are likely to reach net zero by 2050? And what can we do to help make this a reality?

UniversityofBath17 karma

Thanks for this question! I think it's really challenging, but I'm cautiously optimistic. The 10-point plan announced last week by the UK Prime Minister doesn't go far enough, but it's a step in the right direction - it focusses on things like electric vehicles and offshore wind (i.e., green technologies). But we also need major lifestyle changes, like shifting from car use to walking/cycling or public transport; eating less red meat/dairy; and buying less 'stuff' (e.g., replacing things less often and repairing/sharing things more). So, we need policies to support these shifts (like economic measures to cut the cost of low-carbon products; regulations to restrict very polluting products; education to raise awareness) - and as we recently found in the Citizens Assembly UK, there's public demand for most of these policies. So, I think we'll do it... but maybe only just!

Chroevski9 karma

What do you think are the best predictors for determining if any one person is accepting (or not) of the idea of (anthropogenic) global warming? My bet would be that things like higher income and education would correlate with more helpful attitudes towards global warming but what do you think are the more non-obvious factors?

UniversityofBath27 karma

Thanks for this - actually, I've explored this exact question! I found that climate sceptics are no less educated or informed than people who accept climate change - rather, the main difference is political ideology/values (those on the right / conservatives tend to be more sceptical than those on the left / liberals) because climate change policies tend to involve business/consumer intervention, which is less popular on the right. Linked to this, we did also find that people with higher incomes tend to be more sceptical - probably because emissions are so strongly correlated with income (i.e., rich people need to change their behaviour *more* than poor people, so they may be more threatened by the idea of addressing climate change).

UniversityofBath8 karma

Hi everyone - thanks alot for the questions, and sorry I didn't manage to answer the all. I hope the answers were helpful. I've got to log off now... have a good weekend!

kweenkittty7 karma

What’s the best way to cope with depression/existential spiraling relating to climate change and the feeling that you can not do enough to help?

UniversityofBath3 karma

Thanks for raising this - it can be overwhelming thinking about climate change, but I think the best way to avoid being paralysed is to identify actions you can take as an individual to constructively deal with the problem. Obviously, it needs actions by everyone, but equally each person can take steps to reduce their own carbon footprint (e.g., cutting down on flying, driving, red meat...) *and* they can lobby politicians for policy change, and speak to family, co-workers/managers, friends, etc to encourage action too. And try to find like-minded people to talk to that can help you voice your fears and explore other ways of coping.

koolaid-girl-405 karma

What approach would you recommend we take with people in our own lives who are not taking climate change seriously? Are there specific scenarios or arguments that increase people's value of the environment?

UniversityofBath33 karma

Great question. For people who really don't care about climate/environment (or maybe deny climate change), we've found there's no point trying to give them facts and figures about climate change. It's much easier to use arguments that resonate with what they *do* care about and what their goals are - so, maybe it's losing weight, or having cleaner air, or saving money, or their children's welfare - and use those as reasons to advocate action (e.g., 'hey, did you know that cutting down on red meat cuts your risk of cancer and loads of other diseases?... and since red meat is a high-carbon food, it would also be a good climate change action). Basically, identify their values and look for the win-wins in climate actions that will appeal to them

aclai881 karma

What will Earth look like in 20-30 years if we don’t do anything to combat climate change? What’s would be your biggest concern? Climate refugee? Food shortage?

UniversityofBath2 karma

Great questions! There's growing scientific evidence about the risks of unmitigated climate change... and yes, a 4 degree Celsius (or even 5 or 6 degree) world is not a nice place. More floods, droughts, extreme weather, diseases, climate refugees, impacts on infrastructure (e.g., railways buckling), food shortages, species extinctions, etc. Even if we do avoid the worst of these impacts by cutting emissions, we're still going to see some of these things, and so things like coral reefs may be wiped out even in a 2 degree world. But definitely the risks will be way less under a 1.5 or 2 degree world. Yes, I think the human impacts, like more storms, droughts, migration etc are the scariest for me... but I try and stay optimistic that we'll avoid the really bad stuff by taking action to cut emissions in time.