The low-carbon dream - part 2

Over the past five years, the ESRC Research group on Lifestyles, Values and the Environment (RESOLVE) has been doing just that. A pathbreaking, cross-departmental collaboration at the University of Surrey, RESOLVE has achieved international recognition as a centre of interdisciplinary excellence. Its overall aim has been an exploration of the complex links between our lifestyles and the environment.

An explicit goal has been to provide robust, evidence-based advice to businesses, NGOs and policymakers who are seeking to understand and influence energy-related behaviours and practices.

The RESOLVE work programme is organised around five complementary themes. One strand maps the carbon complexity of modern lifestyles, teasing out how much carbon is associated with different areas of our lives (home, travel, leisure and so on) and how this has changed over time.

Another strand addresses the psychology of climate change, exploring not just our motivations and values but the relationship between these and our carbon behaviours.

One of the clearest lessons about human behaviour is its inherently social nature. A third strand delves explicitly into the sociological dimensions of modern lifestyles: how demand is constructed, how daily life is negotiated, how 'environmental resistance' survives and sometimes even thrives. The final themes cover the question of environmental governance (and in particular the role of community in achieving this) and the exploration of different scenarios for low-carbon living.

Since RESOLVE was launched in 2006, the importance of low-carbon living has gone hand-in-hand with burgeoning media and policy interest in the subject. The Climate Change Act set in motion an ambitious programme of targets and timescales for carbon reduction.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change's My2050 scenario tool allows ordinary people to engage in designing a low-carbon future. An interesting feature of these scenarios is that the user inevitably ends up making choices not just about technologies but also about lifestyles. Once again, it becomes clear that technology alone won't achieve our targets.

What My2050 leaves unexplored is what these targets mean for people’s lives. Which areas of our lives will need to change? What will this mean for ordinary people? How are people beginning to negotiate those changes? How effective are policy interventions? Which forms of governance are most successful? None of these questions is easy to answer, particularly in the context of fast-moving politics and a changing economic climate.

From the ESRC magazine Society Now

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