Carbon Capability: what does it mean, how prevalent is it, and how can we promote it?
, Saffron J. O’Neill
, Gill Seyfang
Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia
Centre for Social and Economic Research on the Global Environment, School of Environmental Sciences, Universityof East Anglia
This Working Paper introduces the concept of ‘carbon capability’, provides initial empirical evidence of levels of carbon capability amongst the UK public, and suggests ways in which carbon capability might bepromoted. ‘Carbon capability’ captures the
associated with carbon, whilst alsoreferring to an individual’s
to reduce emissions within the broader institutionaland social context. We identify three dimensions of carbon capability: (1) cognitive (knowledge, skills,motivations, etc.), (2) individual behaviour (e.g., energy conservation) and (3) broader engagement withsystems of provision and governance (e.g., lobbying, voting, protesting). In this sense, carbon capabilitycontrasts with the narrower, more individualistic concept of carbon literacy. Carbon capability is ananalogue to financial capability applied to human‐caused climate change, and involves managingbudgets, planning ahead, staying informed, and making choices. We also draw on the literaturepertaining to public understanding of science, and argue that carbon capability implies a
understanding of carbon. Results of a postal survey (N=550) of residents in Norfolk and Hampshire, UK,are presented, which suggest low levels of carbon capability amongst the public. In terms of the threedimensions of carbon capability: (1) People talk about carbon in abstract terms, others are blamed forclimate change, and carbon emissions are rarely linked to personal actions and lifestyles choices.Misperceptions also exist about the relative contribution of activities to causing climate change; and veryfew people have used a carbon calculator. (2) Few are taking significant steps to lead a low‐carbonlifestyle. This is despite a majority claiming to be interested in actions individuals can take to addressclimate change. (3) Importantly, few citizens consider political action (e.g. writing to their MP) a validresponse to tackling climate change. Together this indicates that individuals would benefit from
education to promote understanding and skills
to manage their carbon emissions, as well as structuralmeasures to
enable and encourage
carbon capability. Two strands of ongoing work to promote carboncapability, relating to ‘materialising’ and ‘budgeting’ carbon emissions, are described.