Impact story: Increasing understanding and awareness of how individuals can make the most effective choices for the climate
Few research publications reach outside the realm of academia and even fewer make an impact on sustainability debates and societal issues. Kimberly Nicholas’ research on lifestyle choices to reduce your carbon footprint is unique in its reach and impact on society.
Her research started with a question, asked by friends and students: what can I do for the climate that really makes a difference?
Kimberly Nicholas and former LUMES masters’ student Seth Wynes decided to find out by analysing data from 39 different sources to see what lifestyle choices are most effective in reducing an individual’s climate footprint in the developed world. In 2017, they published their answer: live car, flight, and meat free, and choose to have a smaller family.
Their research article, The climate mitigation gap: education and government recommendations miss the most effective individual actions, is unique in the way it has reached, and is continuing to reach, a very large audience. The hundreds of media stories, blogs, and social media mentions in outlets around the world are a testament to how the research truly has contributed to increasing public understanding and awareness of how ones’ individual choices affect the climate. The frequent and ongoing mentions of the research in media also illustrate how the research is contributing to changes in attitudes and to an emerging discourse on what responsibility we have as individuals, and how our individual choices can connect to larger communities and systems in stabilizing the climate.
Since the publication of the research, more and more companies and organisations have become aware of the need to reduce flying, and many of them have adopted new travel policies to reduce emissions. There has also been a decrease in domestic flying in Sweden. While it is difficult to ascertain whether these changes in behaviour and attitudes are connected to the research, one can say for certain that the research has had a crucial part in shaping the sustainability and cultural debate on flying. This is evidenced by the widespread media attention and activity in social media forums in Sweden and beyond.
As a result of the research publication, Kimberly Nicholas is now a sought after public speaker on how individuals can make a positive impact for the climate. Her talks and personal appareances in media is helping to further disseminate the research results to audiences of different ages and backgrounds.
Key impacts: changes in attitudes of how individual behavior can impact the climate, initiating societal dialogue on climate change mitigation, environmental and policy impact.
Examples of dissemination
- In Sweden and internationally, hundreds and hundreds of media outlets have reported on the research, ranging from local and regional papers and radio to national and international media outlets. The research is regularly mentioned, from 2017 up to now, 2019, highlighting the continued impact of the research, and the public and media’s interest in the topic.
- The research has brought the issue of lifestyle choices and climate change to the fore in Swedish society: the research has been mentioned by columnists in various papers and by municipality representatives in for example Umeå kommun in relation to a project where ten households out of 170 applicants were selected for a pilot project to live car-free for three months.
- The scientific publication has been cited in around 170 media outlets worldwide.
- It was one of the most cited research articles in media in 2018 according to CarbonBrief.org (link to article on carbonbrief.org: Climate papers most-featured in media 2018)
- The press release about the research is the most read article on the Swedish website lu.se, and the second most read on the English website lunduniversity.lu.se since it was published in 2017. It has had 88 000 unique page views on lu.se, and 38 000 unique page views on lunduniversity.lu.se.
- Almost 3000 tweets about the research results have been sent by around 2600 Twitter users. The research has also been mentioned in numerous Facebook posts and blogs, including the influential IFL Science account.
- The research is cited on eight Wikipedia pages relating to sustainability
- The research has served as inspiration for a play exploring the issue of reproduction and climate change in the UK, “No Kids,” by Theatre Ad Infinitum, a stand-up comedy routine at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and a board game, Hållbara Hushållet.
Selected Media Coverage
- Var femte skåning försöker välja bort flyget, article on Sydsvenskan.seHär är valen du själv kan göra för klimatet. (29 September 2019) på Corren.se
- Human overpopulation: can having fewer children really make a difference? on ScienceFocus.com (4 September 2019)
- Är barnlöshet det bästa och snabbaste sättet att rädda klimatet? Nej, säger forskare – omskriven rapport tolkas slarvigt i debatten. (28 August 2019). Magnus Swanljung on Svenska.Yle.fi
- Swedes are switching from planes to trains — here's why. (10 August 2019). Yuliya Talmazan on NBCNews.com.
- 4 saker vi kan göra för klimatet. (22 July 2019) on hemtrevligt.se (Icakuriren)
- No flights, a four-day week and living off-grid: what climate scientists do at home to save the planet. (29 June 2019) on guardian.com
- Här är forskarens tre tips för att avvärja klimathotet. (12 June 2018) on sverigesradio.se
- Your carbon footprint, explained. (27 April 2018). with Mark Fischetti on wnyc.org
- Her Study Said Having Kids Is Bad For The Environment. Then The Internet Came For Her.. (20 April 2018) on elle.com
- Vi äter fem gånger för mycket kött. (13 December 2017) on sverigesradio.se
- What you can actually do to fight climate change, according to science . (14 July 2017) on gizmodo.com
- These four lifestyle changes will do more to combat climate change than anything else. (13 July 2017) on iflscience.com
- The best way to reduce your carbon footprint is one the government isn’t telling you about. (11 July 2017) on sciencemag.org
- Greta Thunberg Is Shunning Transatlantic Flights. Should You?. (15 August 2019) on fortune.com
Press release in English on lu.se/en
Press release in Swedish on lu.se
Find more media coverage on Kimberly Nicholas' webpage, kimnicholas.com.
About the Researcher
Kimberly Nicholas is a Senior Lecturer in Sustainability Science at Lund University in Sweden. She studies how to manage natural resources to both support a good life today, and leave a living planet for future generations.
To Kimberly Nicholas' s staff page.
The climate mitigation gap: education and government recommendations miss the most effective individual actions, Seth Wynes and Kimberly A Nicholas. It is published in Environmental Research Letters. Download the study at IOP Science.
The Takeoff of Staying on the Ground: Changing personal and political narratives of aviation, climate, and the good life in Sweden
To further investigate the impact on the debate on flying less to head towards a climate-safe society, Kimberly Nicholas has started the project, The Takeoff of Staying on the Ground: Changing personal and political narratives of aviation, climate, and the good life in Sweden, funded by the Swedish Research Council, Formas. The research project will study the growing movement in Sweden to reduce flying and the changing cultural and social norms it represents.