Dr Stewart Barr is working with Coca-Cola Enterprises (CCE) on a ground-breaking study with 20 households in Great Britain and France to observe at-home recycling behaviours.

Professor Katrina Brown is leading an international project to investigate the relationships between ecosystems and human wellbeing with the goal of alleviating poverty and improving sustainable resource use in the poor coastal communities of Mozambique and Kenya.

Professor Patrick Devine-Wright met New Zealand government officials to present his research on public engagement with renewable energy and 'NIMBY' opposition in the UK, and discuss what lessons can be learnt for the New Zealand context.

Environment and Sustainability

Research highlights

Patrick Devine-Wright and  Dr Wendy Wrapson have had a paper titled 'Domesticating' low carbon thermal technologies: Diversity, multiplicity and variability in older person, off grid households' published in journal Energy Policy (DOI: 10.1016/j.enpol.2013.11.078).
This research is important because it addresses two important gaps in social science research into low carbon technologies: adoption by people living in off-grid areas (of which there are 3.3 million in the UK) and by older adults (a growing social group in an Ageing society). What is most interesting about the findings is that it shows that when home-owners install low carbon heating technologies, such as ground source heat pumps or wood pellet boilers, these rarely simply replace previous conventional heating systems, but instead typically complement them. Our research on households in rural Devon, using qualitative methods of repeat interviews, showed that this led to complex configurations of heating technologies and practices that had developed over time. One household was using five different low carbon and fossil-fuels for space and water heating. The conclusion is that new low carbon technologies become 'domesticated', i.e. integrated into pre-existing socio-technical configurations or systems of heat provision. The important message for policy makers is that the carbon savings thought to arise from the installation of these technologies may be less than has been presumed.

Stewart Barr and Rebecca Pearce are leading Exeter’s contribution to a NERC-funded project on analysing historic drought and water scarcity led by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology. Based on an analysis of information from a wide range of sectors (hydrometeorological, environmental, agricultural, regulatory, social and cultural), the project will characterise and quantify the history of drought and water scarcity (D&WS) since the late 19th century and will produce the first systematic account (UK Drought Inventory) of droughts in the UK.

Stewart Barr and Ewan Woodley are leading a project funded by the Exmoor National Park Authority on community flood resilience, which aims to use a deliberative approach to discuss and identify different knowledges about flood events and their causes in and around Dulverton, Exmoor. In November 2013 they facilitated a community workshop with over 25 stakeholders and are currently preparing a summary report for dissemination to the community. This project builds on research commissioned by the Humanities and Social Sciences (HASS) Strategy on community resilience and flooding.

Neil Adger, Katrina Brown, Saffron O'Neil and Helen Adams have highlighted environmental challenges and their social causes and solutions in the World Social Science Report 2013. The report is prepared by the International Social Sciences Council and sets the agenda for social sciences globally, addresses important social science challenges, takes stock of social science contributions and capacities, and makes recommendations for future research, practice, and policy.

Catherine Mitchell, Shane Fudge and Bridget Woodman have launched IGov which is a four year research project aiming to understand and explain the nature of sustainable change within the energy system, focusing on the complex inter-relationships between governance and innovation. The project has been funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

Patrick Devine-Wright was the recipient of a Distinguishing Visiting Scientist awarded from CSIRO, Australia (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) to enable a visit to the Science into Society research group based in Brisbane and led by Peta Ashworth.

The visit led to a jointly authored research paper and to several ongoing research projects including one about climate change and global identities, and another about displacement and extreme weather events.

Neil Adger has led a study that shows concerns about governmental failure to act effectively and fairly in the aftermath of extreme weather events can affect the degree to which residents are willing to protect themselves. The paper was published in Nature Climate Change.

Patrick Devine-Wright was appointed to the Social Science Expert Panel advising DECC and Defra in January 2012. Since then he has contributed an academic review of latest thinking on community engagement with energy infrastructure, and was recently invited to join the steering group of a Sciencewise/DECC public dialogue on community engagement with unconventional onshore hydrocarbon energy

Stewart Barr has been working with Coca Cola Enterprises to try and understand household recycling behaviour of families in the UK and Franc, which have recycling rates below that of most other European countries.

Saffron O'Neil launched a website for the Imag(in)ing Lakes… project which asked users to submit photos and captions to examine the social impacts of strategies for adaptation to sea-level rise in Lakes Entrance, Victoria, Australia.

Catherine Mitchell talking contributed to the IPCC commissioned ‘Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation’.

An international study led by Neil Adger and Katrina Brown has found that the impact of climate change on many aspects of cultural life for people all over the world is not being sufficiently accounted for by scientists and policy-makers with cultural factors  key to making climate change real to people and to motivating their responses.

As part of the SusGrid project on electricity powerlines and public engagement Patrick Devine-Wright was invited to speak to a conference organised by two power grid companies in Ireland (EirGrid and Northern Ireland Electricity) on the subject of public engagement and acceptance. He also been invited to sit on the steering committee advising an EU funded project on public acceptance of high voltage powerlines.

Neil Adger was convenor for the international workshop ‘Climate and Security’ hosted by The Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations at Sciences Po (IDDRI, Paris) in May 2012. The workshop brought together thirty leading scientists and security scholars from nine countries to examine whether climage change in the future will increse the risk of violent conflict.

Members of the group have also been invovled in the projects Climate Tipping Points, Co-evolution of life and the planet, The EVolutionary Ecosystem (EVE) Model, Fire and the Earth System, G360, European Transdisciplinary Assessment of Climate Engineering (EuTRACE). More information on these projects can be found on the Earth System Science website.