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UK: CLIMATE CHANGE DEBATE NEEDS REFOCUSING

Articles / Education
Posted by gfoat on Mar 10, 2008 - 11:36 AM

There is a fundamental conflict between those who think that climate change can be resolved through technology alone and those who believe that more profound changes to our lifestyles and values are urgently needed, argues Dr Kate Rawles, a lecturer in Outdoor Studies at the University of Cumbria [1]. Kate takes the latter view, arguing that first, while increases in energy efficiency and other technological innovations have an important role to play they cannot provide a comprehensive response, and second that some of the wilder technological proposals such as mirrors in space, or seeding clouds with sulphur particles, are downright alarming and bound to have unforeseen problematic consequences.

She also believes that, despite all the recent media attention climate change has received, there are many people who are not all that engaged with climate change - and especially, with what they can do to help prevent it. Kate is researching the potential for using adventurous journeys as a communication medium, aimed at reaching exactly these people.

In 2006, supported by a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship and leave from the University of Cumbria, she cycled 4500 miles from El Paso to Anchorage, following the spine of the Rockies and exploring North American attitudes to and beliefs about climate change along the way. The trip took three months and is now the basis of the Carbon Cycle, a slide show that uses the story of the bike ride to deliver a hard-hitting message about climate change and the urgent need to respond to it, in an engaging and ultimately up-beat way.

Nick-named the ‘Al Gore of Cumbria’, Kate and her partner Chris Loynes, who also lectures in Outdoor Studies, have given the show to audiences across the North West, ranging from the RGS North West and the Sedbergh Festival of Ideas to local Sustrans groups and RGS Scotland at Edinburgh. She is now working on a book, in which the technofix versus values-change debate will be explored at more length.

Kate says: "Travelling in the States, the astonishingly high levels of consumption are always evident. Many of the States policies in responding to climate change are about trying to keep consumerism as a way of life intact, initially by denying climate change and now by seeking to technofix it. This is another form of denial, the belief that we can deal with climate change while still keeping modern industrialised, consumer based lifestyles intact. We can't. Climate change confronts us with fundamental questions about how we define ourselves, both as developed countries and as successful individuals. The values beneath both sets of definitions need to change."

Outdoor Studies and the new University of Cumbria are tackling these challenges. The Faculty of Science and Natural Resources, Outdoor Studies home, aims to go carbon neutral within the decade. The Outdoor Studies team are developing a range of new degrees at graduate and undergraduate level, many of which will have a strong environmental component. Critical thinking, Rawles argues, is fundamentally important.

"It's not about telling students what they should think, but about giving them the information about our current situation and challenging them to develop their own views. This includes looking critically at the values embedded in modern consumer cultures of which they are, of course, a part. Working in the outdoors can be invaluable here. Spending time in the hills can give students a different perspective on consumer culture; an opportunity for high quality experiences that are not based heavily on consumption and that open the door for re-examining what is really important in life."


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  [1] http://www.cumbria.ac.uk/home.aspx