Abstract people Photo by Nicolas Ladino Silva on Unsplash

Climate strikes: the challenge to research

23 April, 2019

Tina Fawcett

Clare Downing

Reading time: 4 minutes

An estimated 2,000 school pupils and their supporters joined in a growing world-wide movement by holding a ‘climate strike’ in the centre of Oxford on Friday 15 February, and there were similar events in other cities across the UK.

An estimated 2,000 school pupils and their supporters joined in a growing world-wide movement by holding a ‘climate strike’ in the centre of Oxford on Friday 15 February, and there were similar events in other cities across the UK. A month later, and the youth climate strikes were even bigger, taking place in many more UK cities, and in over 100 countries worldwide.

This youth movement was inspired by Greta Thunberg, who has taken her message, that we need action not talk, to global political leaders and policy makers.

In response to the climate strikes, Michael Gove, Environment Secretary has said: “It will require us to change the way in which our energy is generated, change the way in which our homes are built, change the way in which our land is managed and farming operates. But that change is absolutely necessary.”

We each have a teenage daughter who took part in the protests and we attended the Oxford climate strikes.

At the second climate strike, we were involved in staffing an information stall offering to answer questions about climate science and responses to climate change.

To add detail to Michael Gove’s quote – the climate challenge will also require us to change the way that energy is used by reducing energy demand, improving energy efficiency and enabling flexibility in time of use. The question for CREDS, and energy and climate researchers more generally, is how should we respond to this movement? Indeed, should we respond at all?

The information stall was not specifically a CREDS response, or a response connected to our research agenda. However, it was outreach – which is something that CREDS, and all researchers, have a responsibility to engage in to a greater or lesser extent. While it might be easier to confine a CREDS response to stakeholder engagement – it’s not clear this is sufficient.

Turning to how the strikes might influence our research agenda, an obvious thought would be to research the climate strikes themselves. This is not currently something CREDS is doing and as a topic it seems better suited to the new Centre for Climate Change and Social Transformations (CAST), which is going to work closely with members of the public, establishing a citizen’s assembly and a young people’s panel to ensure key public concerns are a central part of the Centre. The CAST research begins to respond to one of the key issues, that is, giving those that are affected a voice. The Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity (CUSP) has also done work with young people and sustainability.

Clearly, the children feel that the strikes empower them and give them a voice. This was the subject of a study funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation on climate change and social justice. It found that climate justice is still an underdeveloped research topic, particularly the social justice aspects of adapting to the impacts of climate change. There is also less research on procedural aspects of climate justice (whose voice is heard in decisions) than distributional aspects (who will be affected and where).

The climate strike movement might directly influence CREDS research, for example, in the rates of social / technological change we assume in our models and what scenarios we model. In addition, Equity and Justice was a topic in our recent CREDS funding call.

School children have also called for the human side of climate change (what we can do and how it might affect us) to be integrated into their curriculum. This would go beyond the science of climate change, which is what is currently taught. They also want schools to be run more sustainably. Can our research help with that?

The youth strike 4 climate movement is likely to influence our thinking as individuals, depending on how much attention we pay to it, where we think the movement may go, and perhaps whether we know children and young people involved in the actions. What we have to decide is whether it influences us as a research community. At the moment, for us, there are more questions than answers and we are looking to investigate some of these questions in future CREDS funding calls. To help us to decide on what specific studies we should take forward we would welcome thoughts from researchers, our stakeholders, young people and the wider energy community. One thing seems clear – this is not a movement we can ignore.