Tuesday evening was time for “Hot Heads”. The interactive public event was held at the Science Museum’s Dana Centre and was part of the the Museum’s ‘Climate Changing’ event programme, organised to co-incide with the opening of the ‘Atmosphere’ gallery.
The panel was comprised of:
Geoff Beattie – a psychologist who explored how we could manufacture a “green revolution”. Geoff explained that although everyone knows that green is good, the impicity and explicit attitudes of individuals are often different meaning that opinions and associations are often disassociated when it comes to green issues. Geoff had been involved in some experiments that had looked at the unconsciousness at work, for example tracking people’s eye movements as they looked at images of different products. Little time was spent looking at information on the product’s carbon footprint, as people want to find good news about their purchase of the product. Perhaps climate change is therefore just too depressing to prompt positive action?
Oliver Payne – considered how green products and lifestyles could become the products of desire. Sustainable behaviour needs to be for everyone, so we are selling to all, yet we are all highly context dependent. We all tend to have an aversion to extremes, and are not purely rational or irrational. Commitments made in public work, and changing the default option changes behaviour as we are seem to welcome decisions that are made for us. Framing is also important as is loss aversion – the pain of loss is apparently twice that of the pleasure of gain so we work harder to avoid loss. Social norms are crucial as no-one wants to be seen as the ‘weirdo’. Oliver’s final factor was temporal discounting as we all tend to dicount the future as we would rather have a reward immediately (even if it is smaller than a reward in the future).
Matt Prescott – explored how policy could be changed to influence the masses through exploring the idea of personal carbon trading. Whilst many people point to the state as being most responsible for climate change, we are ultimately responsible through our use of housing, transport and public services. But the problem is remote, we can’t see it. Matt outlined the main principles of David Fleming’s policy framework to solve the problem through applying emissions trading to us as individuals. Everyone in the nation would have an equal right to pollute and we would then be encouraged to pollute less. We could buy more carbon from those who had not used all of their quote, creating a parallel currency in carbon. Carbon credits could be saved in a community who would be rewarded with new community buildings and facilities. Could we develop these ideas into a policy we would all vote for?
Samuel Fankhauser – an economist and member of the UK Committee for Climate Change explained the nature of Britain’s carbon challenge in reducing its Greenhouse Gas emissions dramatically by 2050. But how to encourage changes in behaviour? Taxes, regulation, subsidies, reputation, assistance and information are all possible ways. So what are the best policies to get people to use less energy in the home?
Lots to think about, but I’m sure that regional museums could play a role in encouraging more “green” behaviour – in fact I’m sure many already are!
On the 15th February I went along to one of the seminars arranged by the London Group of Historical Geographers and held at the Institute of Historical Research in London. The speaker was Nigel Clark from the Open University. In his talk, Nigel explored ‘hospitality’ (the theme of this seminar series), and climate change. The title of the talk is drawn from a quote from Ariq Rahman (1995) who wrote that, “If climate change makes our country uninhabitable we will march our wet feet into your living rooms”. Nigel attempted to bring the global and intimate scales of the climate issue together, explaining that in heating our own living rooms we may be having a negative effect on places elsewhere in the world.
With massive displacements of people potentially on the horizon in the form of climate or environmental refugees, encounters between strangers are intensifying. But are there conditions placed on the hospitality offered to these people? Who ‘owes’ what to whom? And how do we respond to an unpredictable Earth? Nigel used the example of Hurricane Katrina to explore the issues further. Through amateur film footage (‘Troubled Water)’ of the aftermath of Katrina, Nigel recounted the outburst of generosity following the hurricane (and also some of the very inhospitable acts) where online adverts of food and shelter were offered to complete strangers in need. Openings to the ‘unknown’ are always both promising and risky, with disasters causing great destruction whilst also offering the possibility of a new and different future. The film took us back to the everyday, the personal and the home, and a family who picked up a complete stranger whilst fleeing New Orleans. When Hurricane Rita struck, many of those playing host to refugees became refugees themselves and the original refugees took over the helping role. The initial moment of hospitality was thus moved beyond, forming more of a reciprocal opening.
The seminar was really thought-provoking, and I think demonstrated the importance of community in tackling climatic change and extreme weather events. This local working-together approach is something that regional museums would be well placed to address.
On Saturday I travelled to Oxford to attend a National Meeting of the Royal Meteorological Society. All members of ‘The Weather Club’ had been invited along to listen to a series of talks around the theme of ‘Understanding the Weather of 2010′. Meteorologists from the Met Office, University of Reading, and University of Manchester reviewed the weather of the past year and put ‘unusual’ or ‘extreme’ events in an historical context. We’ve experienced significant negative temperature anomalies during the last two winters, winter 2009-10 being the coldest since 1979, but it was not as severe as those experienced in 1947 (in terms of volume of snow) or 1963 or 1979 (in terms of persistence of snow). Care is therefore required in describing recent weather as ‘unprecedented’. The floods in Pakistan and the ash cloud of Eyjafallajokull also featured on the agenda.
Yesterday I spent the day at Brooklands museum in Surrey. The main purpose of my visit was to attend a ‘Museums, Learning and the Environment’ training day run by Renaissance South East. Most of the presenters came from museums in the south-east region who had received funding under the Green SLIME (Science Links In Museum Education) initiative that looks at how museums can address sustainability. More broadly SLIME is designed to support and promote the study of science through museum collections to a range of different audiences.
Green SLIME projects include hay meadow restoration, biodiversity improvements to museums and partner schools, art projects, archaeological projects looking at historical and contemporary settlement planning, sustainable museum marketing, sustainable buildings and garden creation. All involve collaboration with community or education groups. The project talks were combined with three ‘expert’ presentations on ‘Sustainability education and culture and heritage’ (Ann Finlayson), ‘Engaging learners in biodiversity’ (Surrey Wildlife Trust), and ‘Sustainable living and entrepreneurship’ (Trudy Thompson). At the end of the day there was an ‘open slot’ in which I was able to speak briefly about my own research. It was really interesting to think about my own research in relation to these projects – everyone at the event was using museum collections to engage with current issues in environmental science.
Over lunch I was able to have a very quick look around Brooklands - the world’s first purpose-built motor racing circuit, constructed at Weybridge, Surrey in 1907, “the birthplace of British motorsport and aviation, home of Concorde and the site of many engineering and technological achievements throughout eight decades of the 20th century”. The Museum displays a wide range of Brooklands-related motoring and aviation exhibits ranging from giant racing cars, motorcycles and bicycles. Could any of these items be linked to climate change?
The most obvious relationship with the theme is the contribution of air and motor travel to the changing climate through emissions. There is a large collection of aero engines. Visitors can also enter the stratosphere chamber, designed in 1946 to test aircraft components under environmental conditions prevailing at 70,000 feet – this meant the reproduction of temperatures as cold as anywhere on earth!
Looking around the car collection I came across a ’1911 Napier Colonial Deluxe’ that was especially designed for life in the colonies and the off-road conditions that it would have been subjected to. It would have been tested cross-country and then speed tested on the Brooklands track. This made me think about the different types of vehicles used in different climates and environmental conditions around the world… and the contemporary efforts of car manufacturers to reduce vehicle emissions and develop ‘environmentally friendly’ cars.
More photos on flickr.