My research project
Towards an Understanding of Advocacy Coalitions for Rapid Transitions to Net-Zero Carbon in the UK
Climate scientists have warned that in order to avoid potentially catastrophic consequences for humanity and planetary ecosystems, rapid decarbonisation of the global economy is necessary.
Much research to address this “grand challenge” has been overwhelmingly socio-technical in focus. There is much less research and knowledge concerning the question of how political will and social resources can be generated to meet the urgency of the climate challenge.
My research operates at the intersection of political, sociological and psychosocial dimensions of sustainability transitions and combines theories of social movements and the policy process to offer answers to three key questions.
1) Who are the important actors in the national climate policy subsystem? A new network map and typology of climate policy advocacy organisations - including their coalitions and alignments - is under construction.
2) What do these organisation believe to be the best ways to a) build an effective coalition for rapid transitions; b) sustain policy salience and public support over the longer-term; and c) envision the wider political, social, economic and cultural contexts in which rapid transitions can be achieved.
The fieldwork element of my research involves semi-structured interviews with a wide range of pro-environmental advocacy organisation spokespersons and a panel of independent scholars in the field of rapid transitions research. Thematic analyses of both groups of interviewees aim to highlight areas of consensus, disagreement, tension and contradiction.
Insights gained from this research are intended to assist pro-environmental climate policy advocacy actors in planning more effective strategies - for example in terms of coalition structure, diversity and alignments, and in the development of a more unified, coherent and compelling narrative for rapid change. While this research focuses on UK climate politics and policy, its methods could be applicable to other countries.
Affiliations and memberships
My research asks two important questions: how quickly can we expand our circles of moral concern for others to match the global global scale of our impact upon others and future generations? What are the most effective ways of persuading people to care about a future world beyond their own lifetimes? I approach these questions historically and experimentally.
The historical study looks at the cultural evolution of social movements - proxies for cooperation - such as the abolition of slavery, female suffrage, abolition of the death penalty and the introduction of social insurance. Preliminary investigations of the dynamics of these movements globally confirm the common intuition that social complexity tends to expand more rapidly than moral concern, and that the rate of acceleration of cooperation required to ensure a sustainable future within the available time greatly exceeds the historical trend.
The experimental study looks at the individual scale with the development of a participatory social dilemma game. Social dilemma games are used in behavioural economics and social psychology to understand the conditions in which players decide whether to behave selfishly or cooperatively and the factors that influence this decision-making over time. Uniquely, the game being developed for this research is also designed to uncover how players can be encouraged to value future generations of players in a virtual society that they themselves are no longer part of.
In summary, my interests encompass:
- The moral, social, economic and political dimensions of the movement towards sustainable prosperity
- The rate of cultural evolution, social movements, the dynamics of globalisation and social change
- Social psychology, game theory, the problem of collective action and institutions for building cooperation
- The use of online games for social good. Collaborations between academic research, games design and public participation
- Agent-based modelling and social simulation using NetLogo.
This research is being supervised by Ian Christie at the Centre for Environment and Sustainability (CES) and Dr. Alex Penn from the Centre for Research in Social Simulation (CRESS) in collaboration with colleagues at the Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity (CUSP).
- growing crystals to earn the most credits for themselves
- sharing energy with others to help them survive debris damage, which is costly in terms of energy for repairs (cooperative option) and
- salvaging abandoned space pods that will otherwise create additional debris hazards for future generations of players (altruistic option).